Over the last 10 yr, research has shown that although the majority of patients are able to cope with the stresses of cancer, a substantial number have difficulties which require some form of psychological help. This study reports on the levels of psychological distress in a heterogeneous group of 117 newly referred out-patients with cancer over a 6-month period. Each patient reported their levels of distress by completing two self-administered questionnaires (the GHQ-30 and HADS) on three separate occasions. A descriptive examination of the socio-demographic characteristics of the sample was also carried out. At the first assessment 30% of the sample scored above the threshold for probable psychiatric disorder on the GHQ-30 and 26% on the HADS anxiety scale. At 6 months follow-up levels had fallen to 21% for the GHQ-30 and 10% for HADS anxiety. The numbers of probable cases of HADS depression was 7% at the first assessment and 5% at follow-up. Differences in levels of psychological morbidity according to age, sex, partner status and socioeconomic group were demonstrated. However, we were unable to make any firm conclusions as to whether these effects were independent of each other as a controlled multivariate analysis of the data set was not possible.