Children of cancer patients may go through a distressing time. The aim of this review was to survey present knowledge on the impact of parental cancer on children and the family. Studies published between January 1980 and March 2004 addressing emotional, social, behavioural, cognitive and physical functioning of children of a parent diagnosed with cancer, as well as the association with child, parental and familial variables were reviewed. Fifty-two studies were found. Emotional problems in school-aged children (11 years) were reported in several qualitative studies, but in only one quantitative study. Quantitative and qualitative studies reported anxiety and depression in adolescents (12 years), in particular in adolescent daughters of ill mothers. Quantitative studies generally showed no behavioural and social problems in school-aged children and adolescents. One quantitative study found physical complaints in school-aged children. However, qualitative studies revealed behavioural problems in school-aged children and also described restrictions in cognitive and physical functioning in children of all ages. The most consistent variables related to child functioning appeared to be parental psychological functioning, marital satisfaction and family communication. Intervention studies directed to the needs of children and their families reported positive effects. While quantitative studies reported especially disturbed emotional functioning, qualitative studies reported problems in all domains of child functioning. Well-designed studies are needed to gain more insight into the psychosocial functioning of children of cancer patients in order to develop tailored care.