BACKGROUND: Cancer survivors are at increased risk for developing secondary tumors, diabetes, osteoporosis, and cardiovascular disease, thus making them an important target population for health-related interventions. However, little is known regarding cancer survivors' behaviors and their interest in pursuing healthier diets, exercise, and smoking cessation. METHODS: A 65-item survey was mailed to 1667 patients diagnosed with early stage carcinoma of the breast or prostate that requested data regarding demographics, health behaviors, stage of readiness for smoking cessation, exercise, increased fruit and vegetable (F&V) consumption, and decreased fat intake, as well as interest in specific health programs and when, relative to diagnosis, these programs should be offered. RESULTS: Responses from 978 cancer survivors suggested that the overwhelming majority (85%) reported their health as good to excellent. The majority of respondents (55%) ate fewer than 5 daily servings of F&Vs, with prostate carcinoma patients reporting eating significantly fewer servings than patients with breast carcinoma (P < 0.001). In contrast, 69% of respondents reported adherence to a low fat diet, again with lower practice rates among prostate carcinoma patients than patients with breast carcinoma (P = 0.006). The majority of respondents (58%) reported routine exercise and 8% were current smokers. Significantly more breast carcinoma patients than prostate carcinoma patients were current smokers (P = 0.03). There was strong interest in health promotion programs across behaviors, and a fair amount of concordance between low fat dietary behaviors and exercise, as well as consumption of five daily servings of F&Vs. The majority of patients expressed a preference for programs that could be delivered via mailed brochure, with 57% of respondents indicating that programs should be initiated at the time of diagnosis or soon after (within 6 months). CONCLUSIONS: The results of the current study suggest that although many cancer survivors already practice healthy life-style behaviors, there is a substantial proportion who do not. Interventions especially are needed to increase daily F&V intake; however, given the fair degree of clustering between dietary and exercise behaviors, multiple risk factor interventions also may be warranted. Among cancer survivors, receptivity is high for health promotion programs, especially those that can be delivered by mail and soon after diagnosis.