This population-based study of all cancer deaths (n = 12,343) occurring in Genoa, Italy, from 1986 to 1990 investigated the relation between place of death and age, sex, marital status, education, cancer site and provision of palliative home care (PHC). The proportion of home deaths significantly increased from 27.9% (1986) to 33.0% (1990) and was twice as frequent among PHC users (60.8%) than among nonusers (29.3%). The number of patients dying of cancer who received PHC increased from 41 in 1986 (1.6% of cancer deaths) to 191 in 1990 (8.0% of cancer deaths). PHC users, when compared to nonusers were younger, more frequently married, had a higher level of education and were more frequently affected by cancers of the lung, breast or prostate. Multivariate analysis shows that the probability of home death increased with increasing age and education level and was higher in females and in married patients. The provision of PHC was the strongest predictor of home death (OR = 4.00; 95% CI = 3.33-4.81), while the temporal trend almost disappeared. These results suggest that most of the increase in home deaths from 1986 to 1990 is attributable to the PHC and that expansion of the PHC services may enable about 60% of cancer patients to die at home. These results appear to be desirable from the individual patient's viewpoint and in a public health perspective.