BACKGROUND: Cancer patients face a frightening array of potentially threatening medical interventions. While the need to prepare patients for such procedures is widely acknowledged, there have been few attempts to clearly specify in detail what adequate preparation entails. METHODS: This study sought to develop a set of guidelines on how to prepare cancer patients for potentially threatening medical procedures. These guidelines were extensively reviewed and modified by a consensus panel of experts. The guidelines were then rated by 101 cancer patients. RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS: These ratings led to further modification of the guidelines, the final version of which was developed into a training module for junior medical officers in New South Wales.