A population-based observational study of South Australian cancer patients was used to identify: the level of coverage of cancer patients by hospice services; the types of patients who miss out on hospice care; and the place of death of hospice and other cancer patients. We reviewed patients who died in 1990 and 1993 using the Central Cancer Registry database together with an identifier of hospice involvement. In 1990, 56 per cent of cancer patients who died had care from a hospice service, and this proportion increased to 63 per cent in 1993. Elderly patients, rural residents and those with a haematological malignancy were less likely than other patients to receive care from a hospice service, while patients aged between 40 and 60 years, longer survivors and those born in the United Kingdom and Europe were more likely to receive hospice care. Hospice involvement increased significantly between 1990 and 1993 for patients who died at home (59 to 73 per cent), in nursing homes (20 to 45 per cent), private hospitals (33 to 52 per cent) and public hospitals (48 to 55 per cent), but the proportion of patients with hospice involvement who died in country hospitals remained at 45 per cent. The increase in hospice coverage of terminal cancer patients reflects the continued integration of hospice care into the mainstream of health care delivery. The types of patients who miss out on hospice services should be given special consideration in the future planning of terminal care services.