Adequate palliation of dysphagia due to inoperable oesophageal carcinoma is difficult to achieve with low morbidity. Thirty-three patients (21 men and 12 women of mean(s.e.m.) age 69(2) years) with inoperable carcinoma of the oesophagus underwent insertion of self-expanding metal stents. In 22 patients the tumours were in the lower third of the oesophagus, in eight in the middle third and in three in the upper third. A stent was inserted as primary palliative therapy in 14 patients, after failed laser therapy in 13 and after oesophageal perforation following other treatments in six. Patients presented with dysphagia of grade 3 or 4. Three types of stent were used: Wallstent, Strecker and Gianturco; stents were inserted under fluoroscopic guidance after balloon dilatation of the stricture. All attempted insertions of metal stents were successful. Dysphagia reduced from grade 3 or 4 to 0 or 1. There were no perforations related to insertion. Patients who had stents inserted to seal previous perforations left hospital a median 7 days later. Dysphagia recurred in six patients, due to migration of the stent (three), blockage by food bolus (one) and tumour overgrowth (two). These problems were easily treated. Self-expanding metal stents seem to offer excellent palliation with minimal morbidity for patients with inoperable carcinoma of the oesophagus.