Of 280 patients presenting to one hospital with gastric cancer between 1975 and 1985, 97 (35 per cent) did not undergo surgery and 29 per cent (54 out of 183) of those who did had no resection performed. The 30-day operative mortality rate in the study period was 15 per cent (28 out of 183) but in the subsequent 4-year period this fell to 7 per cent (5 out of 69). The survival rate correlated significantly with depth of invasion but not with tumour site or degree of differentiation. The incidence of early gastric cancer in this series was 5 per cent but the 5-year survival rate in this group was 52 per cent suggesting that the true incidence might be even lower. The overall 5-year survival rate in our area 20 years ago was only 5.2 per cent but in this series it was 11 per cent overall and 24 per cent after resection, and with actuarial correction 15 per cent overall and 28 per cent after resection. The continuing improvement in operative mortality rates and in 5-year survival rates gives grounds for optimism, but the disease must be diagnosed earlier if this improvement in outlook is to continue.