Data were analysed on 396 patients with early gastric cancer who underwent resection in this department; special reference was made to lymph node metastasis. Metastases were present in the dissected lymph nodes of 47 patients (11.9 per cent). The survival rate for patients with metastasis to lymph nodes was lower than for those without such metastasis (P less than 0.05). Lymph node metastasis was associated with larger tumour, a higher incidence of submucosal invasion, a higher rate of lymphatic vessel involvement, an advanced stage of disease and a non-curative resection rate of 6.4 per cent. Multivariate analysis showed that the independent risk factors for lymph node metastasis in patients with early gastric cancer were large tumour size, lymphatic vessel involvement and invasion into the submucosal layer. In patients with these risk factors, lymph node dissection and postoperative adjuvant therapy should be performed in an attempt to prevent recurrence in the form of lymph node metastasis.