The study reports the results of a preliminary investigation into the incidence of symptom distress in two cancer patient populations – those receiving chemotherapy and those undergoing radiotherapy – and discusses the further evaluation of a symptom distress scale. The scale is found to be both reliable and valid for use in both patient populations. The results indicate that, although overall symptom distress is similar between chemotherapy and radiotherapy patients, there is considerable individual variation in the extent of that distress and the symptoms causing distress may differ between the groups. As in previous studies, tiredness was the most common complaint. Those patients receiving chemotherapy also complained of an inability to concentrate, mood changes and alterations in appearance. Those undergoing radiotherapy most commonly reported significant distress due to pain, altered appearance, constipation and appetite change. The findings suggest that the Symptom Distress Scale may be a useful addition to the assessment of individual patients and may provide a means by which the effects of interventions, designed to alleviate physical distress, could be evaluated.