BACKGROUND: Uncontrolled cancer pain (CP) may impair quality of life. Given the multidimensional nature of CP, its poor control is often attributed to poor assessment and classification.OBJECTIVES: To determine the characteristics and associations of pain intensity in a specialist CP clinic.METHODS: Consecutive patients referred to the CP clinic of the Portuguese Cancer Institute (Lisbon, Portugal) had standardized initial assessments and status documentation of the following: Brief Pain Inventory ratings for ‘pain now’ as the outcome variable; initial pain intensity (iPI) on a 0 to 10 scale; pain mechanism (using the Douleur Neuropathique 4 tool to assess neuropathic pain); episodic pain; Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group rating; oral morphine equivalent daily dose (MEDD); Hospital Anxiety Depression Scale and Emotional Thermometer scores; and cancer diagnosis, metastases, treatment and pain duration. Univariable analyses were conducted to test the association of independent variables with iPI. Variables with P<0.1 were entered into a multivariable regression model, using backward elimination and a cut-point of P=0.2 for final model selection.RESULTS: Of 371 participants, 285 (77%) had moderate (4 to 6) or severe (7 to 10) iPI. The initial median MEDD was relatively low (30 mg [range 20 mg to 60 mg]). In the multivariable model, higher income, Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group rating 3 to 4, cancer diagnosis (head and neck, genitourinary and gastrointestinal), adjuvant use and initial MEDD were associated with iPI (P<0.05). The model’s R2 was 18.6, which explained only 19% of iPI variance.CONCLUSIONS: The diversity of factors associated with pain intensity and their limited explanation of its variance underscore the biopsychosocial complexity of CP. Adequacy of CP management warrants further exploration.