The place of death of cancer patients has become an important theme in UK cancer and palliative care policy. This paper examines the place of death preferences of 41 terminally ill cancer patients and 18 of their informal carers, living in the Morecambe Bay area of north-west England. We interviewed cancer patients referred to the research team by 13 specialist palliative care professionals; patients had an estimated 3 months of life remaining. The study design involved an in-depth qualitative interview with each patient soon after referral to the study, followed by an interview some 4 weeks later and subsequent tracking interviews by telephone at 2-4 week intervals until death occurred. Interviews were also conducted with main coresident carers soon after patient referral to the study and again in the post-bereavement period. Thirteen factors were identified as shaping the place of death preference of patients and carers. These are organised into four thematic domains: the informal care resource, management of the body, experience of services, and existential perspectives. In documenting these factors, this paper adds significantly to current knowledge on the factors that shape place of death preference, a field of enquiry acknowledged to be underdeveloped (J. Palliative Med. 3 (2000) 287). More importantly, it uncovers some of the reasons that underpin these preferences. Our research revealed a much stronger preference for deaths in a hospice than had been anticipated, leading us to take a qualified stance on the current policy drive in favour of home deaths by those charged with delivering UK cancer and palliative care services.