Clinical decision-making on endoscopic vs. surgical resection of early gastric cardiac carcinoma remains challenging because of uncertainty on risk of lymph node metastasis. The aim of this multicenter study was to investigate risk factors of lymph node metastasis in early gastric cardiac carcinoma. Guided with the World Health Organization diagnostic criteria, we studied 2101 radical resections of early gastric carcinoma for risk factors associated with lymph node metastasis, including tumor location, gross pattern, size, histology type, differentiation, invasion depth, lymphovascular, and perineural invasion. We found that the risk of lymph node metastasis was significantly lower in early gastric cardiac carcinomas (6.7%, 33/495), compared with early gastric non-cardiac carcinomas (17.1%, 275/1606) (p < 0.0001). In early gastric cardiac carcinoma, no lymph node metastasis was identified in intramucosal carcinoma (0/193) and uncommon types of carcinomas (0/24), irrespective of the gross pattern, size, histologic type, differentiation, and invasion depth. Ulceration, size > 3 cm, and submucosal invasion were not significant independent risk factors for lymph node metastasis. In 33 early gastric cardiac carcinomas with lymph node metastasis, either lymphovascular invasion or poor differentiation was present in 16 (48.5%) cases and together in six cases. By multivariate analysis, independent risk factors of lymph node metastasis in early gastric cardiac carcinoma included lymphovascular invasion (Odds Ratio (OR): 7.6, 95% Confidence Interval (CI): 2.8-20.2) (p < 0.0001) and poor differentiation (OR: 6.0, 95% CI: 1.4-25.9) (p < 0.05). In conclusion, lymph node metastasis was not identified in early gastric cardiac intramucosal carcinoma and uncommon types of carcinoma. The risk of lymph node metastasis was also significantly lower in tumors with submucosal invasion, especially for cases without lymphovascular invasion or poor differentiation. These results lend support to the role of endoscopic therapy in the treatment of patients with early gastric cardiac carcinoma.