The aim of this work was to investigate the awareness of diagnosis, prognosis and meaning of palliative treatment in Italian patients with advanced, incurable cancers. A group of 100 patients, referred to a Medical Oncology facility, were interviewed. Only 38 patients were aware of the malignant neoplastic nature of their disease. The remaining patients believed they had a benign neoplasia, non-neoplastic disease, or were unable to define their illness. No patient had a correct idea of the poor prognosis of the disease. Only 11.5% of 87 patients receiving chemotherapy had a correct perception of the palliative intent of the treatment, while most believed that the chemotherapy was "preventive". Dissatisfaction with the information received was expressed by a minority of patients. The awareness of diagnosis was better among women and patients with a higher educational background. Withholding the truth from cancer patients still seems very common in Italy.