The terms symptom burden and symptom distress are frequently seen in palliative care literature yet are used in multiple ways ranging from addition of symptom scores to more in-depth assessments of interference in function. Patient input to date has had little role in these varied definitions yet previous reviews have suggested the importance of such input. This mixed qualitative and quantitative prospective study was conducted to seek patient input into the definition of 'symptom burden' and to correlate burden self-ranked scores with symptom scores on the Edmonton Symptom Assessment Scale (ESAS). Results suggest that patients with advanced disease followed by palliative care providers are a group with a high level of self-defined burden. Further, any patient rating one or more symptoms on the ESAS =7 is at high risk of self-defined burden and likely to be experiencing significant impact on physical, emotional and social functioning. Further work should look at which aspects of symptom management best promote a lessening of perceived burden.