Fifty-five patients with primary small bowel malignancies were evaluated from 1955 to 1983. Twenty-seven patients (49%) had carcinoid tumors, 16 (29%) had adenocarcinomas, and 12 (22%) had leiomyosarcomas. The average age at presentation was 68 years (range: carcinoids, 27-82; leiomyosarcomas, 36-75; adenocarcinomas, 40-83). Carcinoids and leiomyosarcomas were 1.7 and 2.0 times, respectively, more common in men; adenocarcinomas showed no sex predominance. Eighty-nine per cent of all patients had symptoms: abdominal pain in 65 per cent, obstruction in 23 per cent, bleeding in 8 per cent, and palpable mass in 5 per cent. Although 27 per cent of carcinoid patients were asymptomatic, 40 per cent exhibited the carcinoid syndrome. Symptoms were longstanding in the majority of cases, and, at the time of diagnosis, 49 per cent of the carcinomas were metastatic. Fifty-five per cent of the tumors were in the ileum, 24 per cent in the jejunum, and 21 per cent in the duodenum. Fifty-five patients (89%) underwent resection for palliation or cure. Five adenocarcinoma patients (32%) survived 1 year, and one (6%) lived 10 years. Twenty-five per cent of leiomyosarcoma patients survived for 10 years. Eighty-seven per cent of patients with carcinoids survived for 1 year, 39 per cent for 5 years, and 22 per cent for 10 years. Previous reports have documented the difficulty of diagnosing these lesions, as does the present study. A higher degree of physician awareness and a more aggressive investigation of referable symptoms should lead to earlier treatment and better long-term results.