Objectives: To evaluate end-of-life care in a cohort of oncology patients in Olmsted County, Minnesota, USA, and compare differences between patients participating in clinical trials and those not in clinical trials. Methods: A population-based cohort of subjects with active oncological disease who died between 2000 and 2002 was constructed retrospectively using institutional databases. Clinical trial participation and care during the last 2 months of life were analysed. Results: A total of 395 eligible patients were identified. In the 2 months prior to death, 94 (24%) patients received chemotherapy, 232 (59%) were hospitalised, 249 (63%) were in hospice and 315 (80%) had a do not resuscitate (DNR) code status. Only 8 (2%) patients received cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and 26 (7%) patients participated in a clinical trial. Patients in clinical trials were more likely to receive chemotherapy (69.2% vs 20.6%; p<0.001), undergo intubation/mechanical ventilation (15.4% vs 5.4%; p=0.040) and less likely to have DNR code status (50.0% vs 81.8%; p<0.001) when compared with patients not in clinical trials. However, no differences in hospice enrolment, days in hospice, days in the hospital, CPR or location of death were noted. Conclusions: Although opportunities for improvement exist, high quality end-of-life care was found in this study of patients with active malignancy. A majority (over 60%) of patients enrolled in hospice prior to death, 80% had a DNR status and only 2% received CPR. Although clinical trial participants received more aggressive treatments during the last 2 months of life, they did not appear to have lower quality end-of-life care.