This article reviews research directions on elderly cancer patients and the consequences of their disease for their partners and families. In a systematic review of the research literature, five research directions were identified: first, the relationship between the family and the etiology of the disease; second, the importance of the family as a source of social support; third, family caregivers as second order patients and the moderating role of psychological factors; fourth, cancer as a challenge for the family and fifth, ways of providing social and psychological support for the families of patients including examples for intervention programs. It is shown that the assumption of a "psychogenic" etiology may inhibit adaptive processes. Depending on its quality, social support can trigger adaptive coping in the patients. Elderly patients seem to be ambivalent in their attitudes towards social support because they may feel hindered with respect to their autonomy. Distress among family members is sometimes very similar to the distress experienced by patients. Several studies have shown that distress is differentially influenced by disease-related, personal and interpersonal factors as well as social resources. Interpersonal factors seem to have a specific impact on the adaptive capacities of patients and their family members. Open communication, a "healthy" family cohesion and adaptive competence seem to positively influence patients' coping. Support programs which actively include family members seem to be effective in reducing the distress of patients and their relatives. Some conclusions will be drawn including a discussion of future research directions.