The main objectives of the study were to (1) see whether the household circumstances of people aged 50 years and over with cancer, and trends in these, differ from those of the rest of the population and (2) whether living arrangements and presence and health status of a primary coresident are associated with place of death among older people dying of cancer and those dying from other causes. The design included prospective record linkage study of people aged 50 years and over included in a 1% sample of the population of England and Wales (the Office for National Statistics Longitudinal Study). The main outcome measures comprised family and household type, and death at home. The household circumstances of older people with cancer were very similar to those of the rest of the population of the same age and both showed a large increase in living alone, and decrease in living with relatives, between 1981 and 1991. The primary coresident of cancer sufferers who did not live alone was in most cases a spouse, with much smaller proportions living with a child, sibling or other person. In all, 30% of spouse, and 23% of other, primary coresidents had a limiting long-term illness. Compared with people who lived alone in 1991, odds of a home death among those dying of cancer between 1991 and 1995 were highest for those who lived with a spouse who had no limiting long-term illness (odds ratio (OR) 2.52, 95% confidence interval (CI) 2.15-2.97) and raised for those living with a spouse with a long-term illness (OR 2.14, CI 1.79-2.56) and those living with someone else who was free of long-term illness (OR 2.13, CI 1.69-2.68). Higher socioeconomic status, both individual and area, was positively associated with increased chance of a home death, while older age reduced the chance of dying at home. The changing living arrangements of older people have important implications for planning and provision of care and treatment for cancer sufferers.