Survival analysis has found widespread applications in medicine in the last 10-15 years. However, there has been no published review of the use and presentation of survival analyses. We have carried out a systematic review of the research papers published between October and December 1991 in five clinical oncology journals. A total of 132 papers were reviewed. We looked at several aspects of study design, data handling, analysis and presentation of the results. We found that almost half of the papers did not give any summary of length of follow-up; that in 62% of papers at least one end point was not clearly defined; and that both logrank and multivariate analyses were frequently reported at most only as P-values [63/84 (75%) and 22/47 (47%) respectively]. Furthermore, although many studies were small, uncertainty of the estimates was rarely indicated [in 13/84 (15%) logrank and 16/47 (34%) multivariate results]. The procedure for categorisation of continuous variables in logrank analyses was explained in only 8/49 (16%) papers. The quality of graphs was felt to be poor in 43/117 (37%) papers which included at least one survival curve. To address some of the presentational inadequacies found in this review we include new suggested guidelines for the presentation of survival analyses in medical journals. These would complement the statistical guidelines recommended by several clinical oncology journals.