Between 1957 and 1981, 31,716 cases of gastric cancer were registered in the West Midlands, UK. The age-standardized incidence has shown a decrease from 17.42 per 100,000 population during the first quinquennium to 15.30 per 100,000 in the last. There was an apparent increase in the proportion of proximal lesions with a decrease in the proportion of distal, antral cancers. The stage of disease at diagnosis remained constant with 79 per cent of patients having stage IV disease. Less than 1 per cent presented with stage I disease. As a result, the curative resection rate was 21 per cent. The operative mortality rates for curative partial gastrectomy and total gastrectomy were 13 and 29 per cent respectively. Surgeons undertaking more than nine total gastrectomies annually had an overall mean operative mortality rate of 22 per cent. Overall age-adjusted survival at 5 years was 5 per cent. Survival at 5 years for stage I, II and III disease was 72, 32 and 10 per cent respectively. There was a significant increase in survival time for those treated by curative resection between 1972 and 1981 compared with the previous decade. The implications for the management of gastric cancer are discussed.