The Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS), a four-point, 14-item questionnaire, was tested as a screening method for adjustment disorders and major depressive disorders in a sample of 210 cancer in-patients. A receiver operating characteristic (ROC) analysis was performed, giving the relationship between the true positive rate (sensitivity) and the false positive rate (1-specificity). This makes it possible to choose an optimal cut-off point that takes into account the costs and benefits of treatment of psychological distress. For screening for major depressive disorders only, a cut-off score of 19 gave 70% sensitivity and 75% specificity. For screening for adjustment disorders and major depressive disorders taken together, a cut-off score of 13 gave 75% sensitivity and 75% specificity. HADS appears in this study to be a simple, sensitive and specific tool for screening for psychiatric disorders in an oncology in-patient population.