During recent years, the national policy of the United Kingdom has increasingly recognized the central place of general practitioners (GPs) in the care of cancer patients, from screening and early diagnosis through to palliative care and bereavement. There are, however, continuing reports of poor control of pain and other symptoms in the community. To investigate general practitioners' prescribing habits and knowledge of some key pain control issues in advanced cancer, a postal questionnaire surveyed a random sample of 450 East Anglian GPs. The response rate was 73.3%. Most respondents were familiar with the modern management of cancer pain, including the World Health Organization approach, the use of oral opioids, and the management of bone pain. There was less awareness of the drug options available for more uncommon situations, especially the dose conversion of oral morphine to subcutaneous diamorphine and drugs that may be used in syringe drivers. GPs in the UK are familiar with the management of the more common pain control problems. However, it is not appropriate to expect GPs to know the details of management of more unusual cancer pain problems. Specialist clinicians need to make themselves readily available to advise their generalist colleagues. The educational implications for GPs are discussed.