Quality of life following resection of oesophageal carcinoma was assessed by patients using the European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer Quality of Life Questionnaire and by a psychologist using the Spitzer Index. Quality of life was evaluated in 119 patients on one occasion 12 months after operation and in 30 patients regularly, starting with a preoperative assessment. Self and external evaluation showed a significant correlation (r = 0.61), but quality of life was assessed as being higher by the external observer. Limited physical performance status and somatic complaints were the most important postoperative dysfunctions, whereas emotional, social and economic disorders were found to be less frequent and less severe. Of several factors analysed only tumour recurrence (P < 0.01) and anastomotic stricture (P < 0.05) lowered quality of life significantly. Compared with the preoperative assessment, quality of life had decreased on discharge from hospital but was restored within 6 months of operation in disease-free patients. Further studies are required to determine the impact of adjuvant therapy for quality of life in patients undergoing surgery for oesophageal cancer.