The charts of 200 consecutive patients with cancer pain admitted to a major teaching hospital in Edmonton, Canada (n = 100) and in Buenos Aires, Argentina (n = 100) were reviewed to assess the differences between North American (NA) and South American (SA) facilities in patterns of treatment of pain and other symptoms. Criteria for eligibility and methods were identical in both hospitals. Characteristics of patients (age, sex, primary tumor, reason for admission) and attending staff were similar between both hospitals. Mean daily equivalent doses of parenteral morphine (mg) were 44 +/- 26 and 9 +/- 10 in NA and SA, respectively (p less than 0.001). Patients in NA, received narcotics every 4 hr and on a regular basis more frequently than in SA. The types of narcotics and the use of adjuvant drugs were significantly different between NA and SA. Nonpharmacologic treatments, antiemetics, and laxatives were more frequently used in NA. These results suggest that there are significant differences in symptomatic management of advanced cancer between institutions in NA and SA.