It has been generally accepted that transforming growth factor beta1 (TGF-beta1) has both negative and positive effects on tumour growth and progression. This study analysed the prognostic value of TGF-beta1 mRNA in advanced gastric carcinoma. A reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction analysis (RT-PCR) was used for TGF-beta1 in endoscopic biopsy specimens from 42 advanced gastric carcinomas. Thirty specimens expressed TGF-beta1 mRNA while 12 specimens did not. The follow-up duration ranged from 4 to 37 months (mean 22.8 months). TGF-beta1-positive group demonstrated a shorter overall survival compared with the TGF-beta1 -negative group (P=0.0014). A significant correlation was also found in the 32 patients who underwent curative resection (P=0.0048). Significant correlations were found between TGF-beta1 mRNA expression and both stage (P=0.0015) and nodal involvement (P=0.0060). Multivariate analysis demonstrated that only TGF-beta1 mRNA expression (P=0.0306) was an independent prognostic factor. All of ten patients who underwent non-curative resection expressed TGF-beta1 mRNA. Expression of TGF-beta1 mRNA in gastric biopsy specimens may be an important preoperative prognostic variable for advanced gastric carcinoma.