From July 1990 to July 1991, 263 consecutive cancer patients admitted to our oncological unit for the first time were invited to participate in a questionnaire based study. 252 patients responded and were included in the final analysis. The aim of the survey was to examine the delays involved in diagnosis and treatment of cancer and the possible psychological distress associated to the different periods of delay. A shorter patient delay was found among patients under the age of 30 years (P < 0.005). Patients with higher education had a significantly shorter delay from the time of contact with the GP to admittance to the local hospital (P <0.005). The diagnostic delay was reported to be significantly more distressing for females compared to males (P <0.05). The reported psychological distress, however, correlated positively to the actual length of total delay (P<0.005) for both sexes. All patients reported that the delay between local hospital referral and admittance to the oncological unit to be the most distressing delay period to cope with.