PURPOSE/OBJECTIVES: To obtain detailed information about the preferences of patients with cancer and their need for information about side effects of cancer treatment to design an interactive multimedia educational program. DESIGN: Qualitative. SETTING: Regional rural academic medical center. SAMPLE: 51 patients and 14 spouses of patients who either currently were undergoing or recently had completed chemotherapy or radiation therapy for cancer. METHODS: Focus groups. MAIN RESEARCH VARIABLES: Information needs and common and distressing symptoms. FINDINGS: Patients wanted information about the process of getting treatment, specific side effects that might occur, and the impact of treatment on their lives. Patients sought information from a variety of sources, but many found that other patients were the most helpful source. Although most patients wanted as much information as possible so they would be prepared for whatever happened, some patients preferred to avoid information about possible side effects. Several obstacles related to information were reported, including access to providers, communication difficulties with providers, informational overload, and problems with retention. CONCLUSIONS: Several aspects regarding information needs confirmed previous findings, and new aspects were illuminated. This led to a conclusion that multimedia technology offered many advantages to meet these informational needs. IMPLICATIONS FOR NURSING: New approaches to patient education that will meet the needs of patients as well as clinicians and educators need to be developed.