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A general health status measure (the UK Sickness Impact Profile) was used to assess health-related quality of life in 212 cancer patients [143 women, mean (SD-standard deviation) age 55.3 (11.7) years] compared to 105 age-sex matched control subjects [71 women, mean (SD) age 54.7 (12.2) years]. The four main areas of impairment in the cancer patient group were work, recreation and pastimes, home management and sleep and rest. The majority of patients were unable to work or working shorter hours due to their disease. A diagnosis of cancer was likewise found to have a major impact on active leisure pursuits and led to reduced participation in social and community activities. Patients had particular problems in carrying out household chores and maintenance or repair work in the house. Many patients had difficulty sleeping at night and tended to sleep during the day or rest for much of the day. The majority of studies of quality of life in oncology patients concentrate upon alterations in symptoms, such measures would fail to detect impairment in the aspects described above. Greater attention should be directed towards addressing issues such as changes in employment status and the need for help in the home to improve the overall care of cancer patients.