Objective: To describe the characteristics of palliative care team (PCT) consultation for patients with cancer who are admitted in hospital and to investigate when and why PCTs are consulted. Methods: In this descriptive study in ten Dutch hospitals, the COMPASS study, we compared characteristics of patients with cancer for whom a PCT was or was not consulted (substudy 1). We also collected information about the process of PCT consultations and the disciplines involved (substudy 2). Results: In substudy 1, we included 476 patients. A life expectancy <3 months, unplanned hospitalisation and lack of options for anti-cancer treatment increased the likelihood of PCT consultation. In substudy 2, 64% of 550 consultations concerned patients with a life expectancy of <3 months. The most frequently mentioned problems that were identified by the PCTS were complex pain problems (56%), issues around the organisation of care (31%), fatigue (27%) and dyspnoea (27%). There was much variance between hospitals in the disciplines that were involved in consultations. Conclusion: Palliative care teams in Dutch hospitals are most often consulted for patients with a life expectancy of <3 months who have an unplanned hospital admission because of physical symptoms or problems. We found much variance between hospitals in the composition and activities of PCTs.