Adult patients with metastatic or locally advanced irresectable soft-tissue sarcoma (ASTS) are generally considered as incurable. Whether some of these patients achieve long-term survival after first-line treatment with chemotherapy is not known. Patients with ASTS still alive 5 years after initial treatment with a doxorubicin-containing regimen, i.e. long-term survivors, were analysed among the 2187 patients included in first-line chemotherapy protocols between 1976 and 1990 in seven trials of the European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer Soft Tissue and Bone Sarcoma Group (EORTC STBSG) group. 1888 patients were followed for at least 5 years. The initial clinical characteristics and the outcome of the long-term survivors were investigated. 66 of the 1888 patients were alive at 5 years and the projected 5-year survival was 8% in this series. Age or histological subtypes were similar in the long-term survivors compared with the other patients. The percentages of females (69%), of grade 1 tumours (35%), of patients with an initial performance status (PS) of 0 (63%) were significantly higher in the long-term survivors while liver metastasis (6% versus 21%) were significantly less frequent. Long-term survivors were observed in all subgroups of patients. 31, 31, 31 and 6% of the long-term survivors were in complete response (CR), partial response (PR), stable disease (SD), and progressive disease (PD), respectively, after the first-line regimen. A CR to a doxorubicin-containing regimen was the major parameter correlated to 5-year survival. In multivariate analysis using a logistic model, independent parameters correlated to 5-year survival were PS, female gender, grade I tumours, and the achievement of a CR after first-line treatment, which was retained as the most powerful predictor for 5-year survival. 10 of the 66 patients died after 5 years in this series, including 8 patients in PD or SD after first-line treatment versus 2 patients in PR or CR (P=0.01). 8% of patients with ASTS are alive 5 years after first-line chemotherapy with a doxorubicin-containing regimen. Long-term survivors are observed in all prognostic subgroups of patients, in particular those achieving a CR to first-line chemotherapy.