Physician behaviors and patient responses were studied in 439 interactions between hospitalized adult cancer patients and oncologists to investigate patient preferences for a participatory role in the interaction. Patients were asked their preference for information to be given (minimal; only if it is good news; or all information, good or bad) and their preference for participation in decision-making (prefer doctor makes therapeutic decisions or prefer to participate in decisions). The majority (92%) preferred all information be given, but only 69% preferred to participate in therapeutic decisions. Of those wanting all the information, 24.9% preferred the physician to make the therapeutic decisions. This group was comprised primarily of older, sicker males. Those who did not want to participate were also slightly more satisfied (P less than 0.05). These data suggest that, although most patients prefer all information to be given to them, almost one-fourth of them preferred a more authoritarian, rather than participatory, relationship with their oncologist.