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To consider the role of nurse education in the development of a body of professional knowledge about cancer, trained nurses (n= 372), learners (n= 160) and auxiliaries (n= 238) were asked, by means of a postal questionnaire, to estimate the 5-year survival rates for early cancers in four sites: breast, cervix, skin and lung. Among trained nurses only a minority had accurate knowledge; four to five out of ten answering accurately for breast, cervix and lung, but only two in ten for skin All three grades were less well informed about skin cancer. For all sites trained nurses were more likely to be accurate than learners or auxiliaries, but the variations were statistically significant only for skin and cervix. Taking auxiliaries as a baseline the degree of differentiation between their knowledge and that of the SRNs was disappointing. Nurses’reliance on bedside experience as their major source of information about cancer is suggested as one explanation for their levels of knowledge. The implications both for the nurse's role in health education and for nursing education are discussed.