The role of laparoscopy in determining suitability for resection was prospectively evaluated in 244 patients with cancer of the gastric cardia and oesophagus. Laparoscopy enabled detection of inoperable disease in 92 patients (38 per cent), several of whom had more than one contraindication to surgery. Hepatic metastases (n = 75, 31 per cent), extensive peritoneal (n = 25, 10 per cent) or lymph node involvement (n = 5, 2 per cent) and direct invasion of the liver or colon (n = 5, 2 per cent) were considered contraindications to surgery. Laparoscopy was poorly tolerated in a further 11 (5 per cent) patients, who were not considered suitable for resection. Extra-abdominal metastatic disease was detected in 17 patients who appeared normal at laparoscopy, and a further six patients refused surgery. The remaining 118 patients underwent laparotomy with a view to resection which was successful in 85 (72 per cent). Laparoscopy thus prevented ill-advised laparotomy in 103 patients (42 per cent), either because of extensive intra-abdominal disease or poor tolerance to anaesthesia. Laparoscopy may be a valuable investigation when used to assess the feasibility of resection.