Worldwide, the number of cancer survivors is increasing, owing to improvements in cancer therapy, resulting in an increased need to address the physical and mental sequelae of cancer. This paper introduces a Danish psychosocial cancer intervention and presents the baseline characteristics of the cancer survivors with respect to cancer site, sociodemographic variables, social network, lifestyle, self-rated health and the prevalence of cancer-related late effects. The study is part of the FOCARE research project, in which the long-term effects of the rehabilitation programme are evaluated systematically. The study is based on data from a self-administered baseline questionnaire filled in by 2 174 cancer survivors who registered for a 1-week, publicly paid rehabilitation retreat and were invited to participate in the FOCARE study in the period 25 November 2002 to 31 December 2005. The response rate at baseline was 86% (n = 1876). Most participants were younger women with breast cancer. They were generally well educated and working. The cancer survivors reported having comprehensive social networks and being physically active. Several cancer-related symptoms were reported by women with cancers at selected sites, of which fatigue was the most prevalent. More than half reported good-to-excellent self-rated health, while fair-to-poor health was reported by 40%, most of whom were survivors of lung (56%) and haematological (48%) cancers. The results indicate that Danish cancer survivors experience considerably reduced physical health, possibly as late physical effects of treatment. The problems reported by the cancer survivors suggest that cancer rehabilitation should include these aspects of living after cancer and take account of differences among cancer survivors with regard to cancer site, sex, age, family, working status and social position. These challenges might be addressed optimally in multi-dimensional rehabilitation programmes.