Evidence-based recommendations concerning how to discuss dying, life expectancy, and likely future symptoms with patients with a limited life expectancy and their families are lacking. The aim of this systematic review was to review studies regarding prognostic/end-of-life communication with adult patients in the advanced stages of a life-limiting illness and their caregivers. Relevant studies meeting the inclusion criteria were identified by searching computerized databases up to November 2004. One hundred twenty-three studies met the criteria for the full review, and 46 articles reported on patient/caregiver preferences for content, style, and timing of information. The majority of the research was descriptive. Although there were individual differences, patients/caregivers in general had high levels of information need at all stages of the disease process regarding the illness itself, likely future symptoms and their management, and life expectancy and information about clinical treatment options. Patient and caregiver information needs showed a tendency to diverge as the illness progressed, with caregivers needing more and patients wanting less information. Patients and caregivers preferred a trusted health professional who showed empathy and honesty, encouraged questions, and clarified each individual's information needs and level of understanding. In general, most patients/caregivers wanted at least some discussion of these topics at the time of diagnosis of an advanced, progressive, life-limiting illness, or shortly after. However, they wanted to negotiate the content and extent of this information.