In this review of English language publications from 1970, operative mortality following surgery for gastric cancer has been analysed. Operative mortality has declined in series reporting operations in successive decades to 1970, 1980 and 1990. Series reporting patients having surgery for gastric cancer in the decade to 1990 show a mean operative mortality rate of 7·8 per cent (median 4·6 per cent). This improvement may have contributed to the declining mortality rates for gastric cancer in the face of unchanging surgical workload. Results of operations for gastric cancer should be reported in a standard manner.