This survey was designed to investigate the current status of the management of cancer pain in Finland. In 1995 a questionnaire was randomly sent to 5% (n = 546) of Finnish physicians, excluding specialists not expected to treat cancer patients. Two previous surveys, using the same questionnaire, were conducted in 1985 and 1990 by Vainio. The response rate was 53%. Seventy-nine percent of the respondents treated one or less than one cancer patient a week. Sixty-seven percent of them assessed the severity of cancer pain in their patients as being at least moderate. In 10 years, the proportion of physicians suggesting the WHO analgesic ladder principle to their 'typical cancer patient' had increased from 12% to 28%. At the same time, the suggestions of 'analgesic' without definition had decreased from 48% to 6%. Three simulated patient cases were presented. The mean daily dose of opioids suggested for severe terminal cancer pain corresponded to 72 (18-300) mg of intramuscular morphine in 1995, being only 39 (1-77) mg in 1985 for the same simulated patient case. Continuous infusion of opioid was recommended by 59% of the respondents. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs as the treatment of choice for bone metastases pain in a patient with breast cancer, was recommended by 68% of the respondents. In the case of local severe pain due to recurrent rectal cancer, 63% of the physicians suggested anaesthetic intervention. Insufficient pain relief and lack of experience were the most common difficulties in pain management. Only one-third of the physicians thought that they had enough time and ability to give sufficient psychological support to their patients.