To elucidate which symptoms or problems to measure when evaluating palliative care, we assessed the content validity of selected patient self-assessment questionnaires used to evaluate palliative care: the European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer-Quality of Life-Core 30 (EORTC QLQ-C30), the Edmonton Symptom Assessment System (ESAS), the Palliative Care Outcome Scale (POS), the McGill Quality of Life Questionnaire (MQOL) and the Memorial Symptom Assessment Scale (MSAS). The content of the questionnaires was compared against the symptoms and problems noted in the medical records of 171 consecutive cancer patients on their first admission to a department of palliative medicine. From the records, 63 different symptoms were listed. Two questionnaires covered almost all of the prevalent symptoms/problems: the EORTC QLQ-C30 covered 10 and the MSAS 11 of the 12 most frequent problems. Researchers selecting instruments for evaluating palliative care may use the present study and other reviews to examine to what degree a given selection of instruments cover the symptoms/problems targeted by palliative care physicians.