The effects of extensive intraoperative peritoneal lavage (EIPL) for gastric cancer patients with peritoneal free cancer cells were investigated. This study was based on 22 consecutive patients with peritoneal free cancer cells, among 663 patients who underwent curative surgical treatment for advanced gastric cancer. The 22 patients were followed up for 2 years or until death. These patients were divided into three groups: group 1, patients with no additional intraoperative therapy (from 1989 to 1992; n = 8); group 2, patients with intraoperative intraperitoneal chemotherapy alone (from 1992 to 1995; n = 7); and group 3, patients with EIPL followed by intraoperative intraperitoneal chemotherapy (from 1996 to 1999; n = 7). Reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) analysis showed that viable cancer cells were not detected after the eighth EIPL in a gastric cancer patient with numerous intraperitoneal free cancer cells. In group 3, 4 of the 7 patients survived for more than 2 years, including 3 with cancer-free status, whereas no patient survived cancer-free in groups 1 and 2. The peritoneal recurrence rates and cancer-specific 2-year survival rates in groups 1, 2, and 3 were 100%, 85.7% and 42.9%; and 0%, 14.3%, and 57.1%, respectively. The 2-year survival rate of group 3 was significantly higher than that of group 1 (P = 0.017) and that of group 2 (P = 0.025). In a subset analysis, patients with peritoneal free gastric cancer cells but no macroscopic dissemination showed a statistically significant improvement in survival those treated with EIPL compared with those not treated with EIPL.