We reviewed all medical records concerning patients suffering from spinal cord or cauda equina compression (SCC) secondary to cancer, in the eastern part of Denmark, from 1979 through 1985. During the period the incidence of SCC in cancer patients went up from 4.4% to 6%. However, this increase was not significant. The series comprised 398 cases, with carcinoma of the prostate (19%), lung (18%), breast (14%) and kidney (10%) accounting for 61%. The symptoms were evaluated in accordance with the patients rating of pain, motor deficits, sphincter control and paraesthesia, whereas the clinical manifestations were classified on the basis of motor deficit and bladder dysfunction. During the period preceding the diagnosis of SCC, 83% of the patients suffered from back pain, 67% from deteriorating gait and 48% had retention of the urine. In 35% of the patients there was no sphincter disturbance and 10% had normal sensory function. The outcome of treatment was estimated by changes in motor deficits and sphincter function, and depended primarily on the patients condition at the time of the diagnosis. Of the patients who were able to walk before treatment, 79% remained ambulatory, whereas only 18% of the non-ambulatory patients regained walking ability. Patients treated by decompressive laminectomy followed by radiotherapy apparently had a better response than patients treated with surgery or irradiation alone, but when the patients pre-treatment motor function was taken into account, no significant difference was observed. The study may call for a properly randomized trial with careful stratification of tumour biology, performance status and neurological deficits.