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To implement nutritional risk screening and evaluate the relationship of nutritional risk to complication rate and quality of life in patients with cancer.A total of 687 patients with cancer from two teaching hospitals in China were consecutively enrolled. Data were collected on the nutritional risk screening, application of nutritional support, complication and quality of life.The prevalence of nutritional risk at admission among the total, younger and elderly patients was 45.6%, 38.7% and 58.0%, respectively. There was a significant increase in the prevalence from admission to 2 weeks after admission in all patients (P = 0.011). The prevalence in those patients ≥ 70 years was significantly higher than that in the younger ones (P < 0.001). The highest prevalence of nutritional risk was in pancreas cancer (81.8%). Only 46.7% of at-risk patients received nutritional support and the average PN:EN ratio was 7.0:1. Complications were noted in 29.0% of all patients and were significantly more frequent in ‘at-risk’ patients (P < 0.001). Among the scales of quality of life (SF-36), the scores of physical functioning (P < 0.001), role-physical (P < 0.001), bodily pain (P = 0.012), energy/fatigue (P < 0.001) and general health (P < 0.001) were significant lower in the patients at risk.A large proportion of cancer inpatients were at nutritional risk and tended to worsen during the course of admission, which has been associated with increased complication rate and lower scores of quality of life. The application of PN and EN was inappropriate in patients with cancer in China.