This study aimed to determine the content and the amount of information given by medical oncologists when proposing palliative chemotherapy and whether this information given is influenced by patient or physician background characteristics. In a prospective study, 95 patients with incurable cancer were interviewed before they consulted their medical oncologist. Their first consultation was audiotaped, and their eventual decision scored. A coding scheme comprised six categories of information given during the consultation. Medical oncologists mentioned or explained the disease course (53%), symptoms (35%) and prognosis (39%). Most patients were told about the absence of cure (84%). Watchful-waiting was mentioned to only half of the patients, either in one sentence (23%) or explained more extensively (27%). Multilevel analysis revealed that the patients' age, patient's marital status, and consulting in an academic hospital explained 38% of the amount of information given. Most of the physicians' attention is spent on the 'active' treatment option. Older patients, married patients and patients in academic hospitals receive more information.