• This study set out to develop the nursing care of breast cancer patients at the Central University Hospital in Turku, Finland, using the methods of action research and to evaluate the results of the development effort from the point of view of both patients and nursing staff.
• A theoretical model of the care of cancer patients was constructed on the basis of existing knowledge of how people react in stress and crisis situations or at different stages of a difficult illness.
• A specific care programme for breast cancer patients was also planned for the hospital's oncology and surgical units.
• Data were collected using questionnaires.
• Results indicated that our theoretical model of the care of cancer patients worked reasonably well. They also clearly highlighted the areas in which there is room for further improvement.
• Patients' experiences of the nursing staff were generally positive and the majority of the nursing staff also regarded the development project as a success.