The postoperative course of 159 patients with early gastric cancer operated on between 1974 and 1987 was followed for a median of 7.3 years. The cumulative 10-year survival rate(s.e.) calculated using follow-up data to the end of 1989 was 90.6(2.7) per cent excluding operative death and that from causes other than gastric cancer, or 86.3(3.0) per cent when operative mortality was included. The overall 10-year survival rate(s.e.) was 77.3(3.7) per cent. Univariate analysis showed a significant difference in survival rates between cancers confined to the mucosa and those with submucosal invasion (P = 0.02), between patients with and without lymph node metastases (P = 0.05) and between those < or = 50 and > 50 years of age (P = 0.02). Using Cox multivariate analysis and a stepwise procedure for eight variables (sex, age, depth of invasion, lymph node metastases, presence of ulceration, location, histological type, type of surgery), age and histological type had the most significant effect on survival. Seven operative deaths were recorded. Eleven patients died from recurrent cancer and one is still alive with a gastric remnant recurrence. Other causes of death were metachronous primary cancer (six patients), cardiovascular disease (two), pneumonia (three), sepsis (one) and car accident (one). Although the prognosis of early gastric cancer is relatively good in western countries, patients should be carefully followed over a long period for late recurrence and for metachronous cancer, which has a high incidence.