The provision of adequate information in a clear and sensitive manner can improve cancer patients' experience of care. Satisfaction with the cancer consultation may impact on satisfaction with care in general and adjustment to the disease. This study aims to identify factors that influence patient and clinician satisfaction with the cancer consultation and whether satisfaction can be improved with communication skills training. 160 doctors from 34 UK cancer centres participated. Half were randomized to attend a communication skills training course. Patient satisfaction data are presented at baseline and following a communication skills course or in the case of the control doctors, three months after baseline. Clinicians also rated their satisfaction with the consultations. Overall patient satisfaction was not related to the speciality, seniority or sex of the clinician or patient, site of primary cancer or type of treatment. Satisfaction was related to patients' age, psychological morbidity and, most significantly, satisfaction with the length of wait in clinic. Clinician satisfaction was not related to age, sex or cancer site but clinicians were less satisfied following consultations with patients being treated palliatively. Communication skills training had a non-significant positive effect on patient satisfaction. The subtle benefits of improved communication may be overshadowed by practical problems such as waiting too long to see the doctor, which have an adverse effect on satisfaction. Copyright © 2003 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.