Recent proposals recommend that cancer patients are cared for, as much as possible, in specialist cancer units and centres. However, a large number of these patients will still be admitted to medical and surgical wards of general hospitals at one time or other. Yet little is known about the knowledge and skills of nurses dealing with this group of patients. A survey design was used to assess the self-reported level of competence, in a number of activities relating to their work with cancer patients, among medical and surgical nurses (n = 106) in a district general hospital in Northern Ireland. It also aimed to identify their self-reported educational needs in caring for this group of patients. Results showed that these nurses cared for people with a range of cancers. While they reported an above-moderate level of competence, they also rated their level of competence higher in physical than in psychosocial care. Among their self-perceived educational needs were more knowledge, and skills in psychosocial care, communication, dealing with side-effects of treatment and pain management.