Background: The ageing of the population is expected to bring an enormous growth in demand for oncological health care. In order to anticipate and respond to future trends, cancer care needs to be critically evaluated. The present study explores the possibility of conducting representative and population-based research on cancer care on the basis of data drawn from the Cancer Registry. Methods: A population-based state-wide cohort study (OVIS) has been carried out in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. All patients with malignant melanoma, breast, or prostate cancer were identified in the Cancer Registry. Epidemiological data were obtained for all the patients and screened for study eligibility. A postal questionnaire requesting information on diagnosis, therapy, QoL and aftercare was sent to eligible patients. Results: A total of 11,489 persons diagnosed with the cancer types of interest in the period from January 2002 to July 2004 were registered in the Cancer Registry. Of the 5,354 (47%) patients who gave consent for research, 4,285 (80% of consenters) completed the questionnaire. In terms of relevant epidemiological variables, participants with melanoma were not found to be different from non-participants with the same diagnosis. However, participants with breast or prostate cancer were slightly younger and had smaller tumours than patients who did not participate in our study. Conclusion: Population-based cancer registry data proved to be an invaluable resource for both patient recruitment and non-participant analysis. It can help improve our understanding of the strength and nature of differences between participants and non-respondents. Despite minor differences observed in breast and prostate cancer, the OVIS-sample seems to represent the source population adequately.