'Significant unmet needs' are those needs that patients identify as both important and unsatisfied. In this article we ask whether the overall needs of cancer patients are actually being met. We believe that the range of unmet need, and the kinds of patients who are more likely to claim unmet need, should be carefully identified. The needs responses of a series of 295 cancer patients in a cross-sectional survey were analysed. The majority expressed the opinion that information and good relationships with health care professionals were important, and few expressed dissatisfaction with these aspects of need. Similarly, needs items about support from family and friends were largely rated as important and satisfied. For a sizeable minority of patients, items of significant unmet need cluster around aspects of managing daily life, emotions, and social identity. The distribution of significant unmet needs is not random but is more likely to be experienced by patients who are younger, have a long-standing illness or disability, do not own/have use of a car, and/or have no religious faith. Furthermore, significant unmet needs relate to patients' ability to talk freely to a carer about the cancer, the degree to which the cancer interferes with social activities, and whether financial difficulties are experienced. Most of the significant unmet need is beyond the remit of services primarily designed for the treatment of disease. We consider whether multidisciplinary cancer teams can be expected to deal with all aspects of the cancer experience.