The value of blood transfusion as a supportive treatment in haematological disease and oncology is well established and is seen as an essential part of treatment. The place of blood transfusion in the alleviation of symptoms within palliative care units is less well established. There has been no evaluation of its benefits in terms of symptom relief and impact on the quality of life. This study was designed to identify the benefit achieved by transfusion as well as possible indicators for its appropriate use in the future. Ninety-seven patients were recruited over one year, from the beginning of September 1992 to the end of August 1993, from eight centres, all members of the South West Thames Palliative Medicine Collaborative Audit Group. Patients completed visual analogue scales before and on two occasions after transfusion, to assess its impact on dyspnoea, weakness and overall sense of well-being. Results indicated that a significant proportion showed improvement in all three parameters. Those whose main indication for transfusion was weakness showed a particular benefit. The group of patients entered into the study were anaemic in comparison with our normal patient population, but the degree of improvement seen did not correlate with the degree of anaemia prior to transfusion. We conclude that transfusion does offer symptom relief and improvement in well-being in patients with advanced malignant disease. It should be considered as a worthwhile option in palliative treatment of weakness, dyspnoea and impaired overall sense of well-being, when associated with anaemia.