The European Society of Surgical Oncology is actively involved in the promotion of a high standard of surgical oncology throughout Europe. Such an ambition involves recognition of Centres of Excellence in the management of cancer patients throughout Europe. These centres have a multi-disciplinary system involved in the total care of patients with cancer and are concerned with the delivery of care to the highest available standards. It is accepted that not all patients with cancer can, nor should, necessarily be treated in such highly specialized centres. Yet all cancer patients should be guaranteed a high standard of care. High surgical standards can be ensured if surgeons treating cancer are trained in specialist centres and, when in independent practice, follow established guidelines or protocols of treatment. In common with many national surgical oncology societies, the European Society of Surgical Oncology is in the process of establishing good practice guidelines in the treatment of solid tumours. This document on the management of symptomatic breast cancer is the first of a series of guidelines to be proposed by ESSO. It draws heavily on excellent documents already in existence from the British Association of Surgical Oncology and from the Danish Breast Cancer Co-Operative Group. It is hoped that this document will be sufficiently clear and purposeful to be of help to the individual surgeon and yet sufficiently flexible to allow it to be adopted in the different medical systems throughout Europe.