Evidence suggests that gender differences appear in a variety of biological and psychological responses to stress and perhaps in coping with acute and chronic illness as well. Dysfunctional parenting is also thought to be involved in the process of coping with stress and illness; hence, the present study aimed to verify whether dysfunctional remembered parenting would influence psychological distress in a gender-specific manner in patients suffering from cancer. Patients attending an outpatient oncology clinic completed the Remembered Relationships with Parents (RRP), Hospital Anxiety and Depression and Spielberger's State–Trait Anxiety Inventory scales and the National Cancer Center Network Distress Thermometer. Although no baseline gender differences were detected, a multivariate analysis confirmed that anxiety and depression symptoms of men and women suffering from cancer are differentially affected by the RRP Control and Alienation scores. Women with remembered parental alienation and overprotection showed significantly more anxiety symptoms than men, whereas men were more vulnerable to remembered alienation than overprotection with regard to the Distress Thermometer scores. These results suggest that remembered dysfunctional parenting is crucially, and in a gender-specific manner, involved in the coping strategy adopted by male and female cancer patients. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.