A prospective study of preoperative risk factors in extracapsular cataract surgery was undertaken. The study included 2042 planned extracapsular cataract extractions in 1772 patients performed by 12 surgeons between February, 1986 and June, 1988. The possible risk factors to be analysed included sex, age, right or left eye, axial length, pseudoexfoliation syndrome, preceding blunt ocular trauma, diabetes mellitus and systemic hypertension. Capsular breaks occurred in 2.9% and vitreous loss in 1.9% of our patients. A significant increase in the frequency of capsular breaks was observed for patients under the age of 41 and for patients with diabetes mellitus, vitreous loss being observed significantly more frequently in eyes with pseudoexfoliation syndrome. A slight but insignificant increase in capsular breaks was observed for male patients, left eyes, eyes smaller than 22 mm, pseudoexfoliation syndrome and systemic hypertension. Advanced age, myopia and previous blunt trauma were not found to be significant risk factors for capsular breaks or vitreous loss. We recommend careful preoperative patient examination to identify preoperative risk factors and possibly avoid intraoperative complications.