Clinicians involved in the opioid pharmacotherapy of cancer-related pain should be acquainted with a variety of opioids and be skilled in the selection of doses when the type of opioid or route of administration needs changing. The optimal dose should avoid under-dosing or overdosing, both associated with negative outcomes for the patient. Although equianalgesic dose tables are generally used to determine the new doses in these circumstances, the evidence to support the ratios indicated in these tables largely refers to the context of single dose administration. The applicability of these ratios to the setting of chronic opioid administration has been questioned. A systematic search of published literature from 1966 to September 1999 was conducted to critically appraise the emerging evidence on equianalgesic dose ratios derived from studies of chronic opioid administration. There were six major findings: 1) there exists a general paucity of data related to long-term dosing and studies are heterogeneous in nature; 2) the ratios exhibit extremely wide ranges; 3) methadone is more potent than previously appreciated; 4) the ratios related to methadone are highly correlated with the dose of the previous opioid; 5) the ratio may change according to the direction the opioid switch; and 6) discrepancies exist with respect to both oxycodone and fentanyl. Overall, these findings have important clinical implications for clinicians and warrant consideration in the potential revision of current tables. The complexity of the clinical context in which many switches occur must be recognized and also appreciated in the design of future studies.