To evaluate the relationship between the expression of P-glycoprotein by osteosarcomas and the rate of metastasis and death, a retrospective review of 172 patients who were diagnosed with osteosarcoma between 1987 and 1992 was performed. Forty patients had P-glycoprotein levels available. The majority of the osteosarcomas were Stage II-B (33 patients), with the remaining seven being Stage III. Tumor sites included 25 femurs, seven humeri, five tibias, and one each of pelvis, radius, and fibula. The patients with Stage III disease at presentation were treated differently from the time of diagnosis and therefore, these seven patients with Stage III osteosarcoma were excluded from additional analyses. The expression of P-glycoprotein by cultured tumor cells from biopsy specimens was determined using immunofluorescent microscopy. In the 33 patients with Stage IIB osteosarcoma with detectable P-glycoprotein, 67% (10 of 15) had metastases develop as compared with 28% (five of 18) of patients with undetectable P-glycoprotein. Similarly, 53% (eight of 15) of patients with tumors expressing P-glycoprotein died of disease compared with 11% (two of 18) with no detectable P-glycoprotein. Expression of P-glycoprotein by tumor cells seems to be associated with an estimated ninefold increase in the odds of death and a fivefold increase in the odds of metastases in patients with Stage IIB osteosarcoma. Kaplan-Meier survivorship analysis revealed that patients with detectable P-glycoprotein fared worse in terms of survival time and metastasis-free survival. Adjusting for covariates in the Cox proportional hazards model, expression of P-glycoprotein and its level were significantly predictive of time to death in patients with Stage IIB osteosarcoma.