The objective of the study was to determine whether teams providing specialist palliative care improve the health outcomes of patients with advanced cancer and their families or carers when compared to conventional services. The study involved a systematic literature review of published research. The source of the data included studies identified from a systematic search of computerized databases (Medline, psychINFO, CINAHL and BIDS to the end of 1996), hand-searching specialist palliative care journals, and studying bibliographies and reference lists. The inclusion criteria for articles were that the study considered the use of specialist palliative care teams caring for patients with advanced cancer. Articles were assessed and data extracted and synthesized, with studies graded according to design. A variety of outcomes were considered by the authors. These addressed aspects of symptom control, patient and family or carer satisfaction, health care utilization and cost, place of death, psychosocial indices and quality of life. Overall, 18 relevant studies were identified, including five randomized controlled trials. Improved outcomes were seen in the amount of time spent at home by patients, satisfaction by both patients and their carers, symptom control, a reduction in the number of inpatient hospital days, a reduction in overall cost, and the patients' likelihood of dying where they wished to for those receiving specialist care from a multiprofessional palliative care team. It was concluded that all evaluations were of services considered to be leading the field, or were pioneering training and treatments. However, when compared to conventional care, there is evidence that specialist teams in palliative care improve satisfaction and identify and deal with more patient and family needs. Moreover, multiprofessional approaches to palliative care reduce the overall cost of care by reducing the amount of time patients spend in acute hospital settings.