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The primary objectives of surgery for colorectal cancer are to achieve radical resection of the tumour and to ensure a satisfactory quality of life for the patient. But what is satisfactory quality of life for the patients? What do patients desire? The goal of our exploratory investigation was to evaluate prospectively the patient pre-operative expectations as objectively as possible and to analyse results in relation to age, gender and socio-economic status.In the period from 1998 to 2001, 167 patients were given a questionnaire consisting of 15 questions prior to surgery. The questionnaire included various aspects that were thought to influence the patient's quality of life. Moreover the patients were given the opportunity to rate the questions they considered most important.The following five points were considered most important by the total group of patients: Complete cure of the disease was rated most important (95%); it was the prime expectation of the patients. This was followed by the avoidance of a stoma (81%), a reliable control of defaecation (52%), normal digestion (44%) and little pain (26%).Age, gender and education influence the pre-operative expectations of patients undergoing surgery for colorectal cancer. In addition to the surgical standard, the care of the individual patient must be given due consideration in the treatment strategy.