The attitudes of heterogeneous groups of cancer patients towards research have been studied extensively. Less is known about these attitudes in the advanced cancer population. Such patients may have differing attitudes for a variety of reasons, including burden of disease and social factors. This systematic review examines the literature on attitudes of patients with advanced cancer toward research and aims to define common themes. The following databases were searched electronically: CINAHL (1982-2007), the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (2007), Embase (1996-2007), and Medline (1996-2007). Additionally, the following journals were hand searched: Palliative Medicine, Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, and the European Journal of Palliative Care. The search terminologies used were: "Cancer" AND "Attitudes" AND "Research" AND "Palliative Care." All subheadings were included. Results were limited to English-language journals and studies involving humans. Of the 637 articles retrieved, 11 were included after an appraisal process. Both positive and negative attitudes toward research in advanced cancer were identified. Common themes of altruism, hope, and self-benefit were identified in 10 studies as a motivation for trial participation. Negative attitudes toward symptom control and risk of increased hospital admissions were identified in four studies. Most of the studies involved patients' views about participating in hypothetical trials, limiting the generalizability of results. An important step for future work would be to examine the experiences and opinions of patients with advanced cancer who have actually participated in a clinical trial.