A total of 64 Chinese patients (eight men, 56 women) undergoing primary treatment for follicular thyroid cancer between 1961 and 1986 were studied retrospectively to report the local experience in treatment of this condition and to identify the risk factors for mortality. The minimum follow-up was 7 (median 14) years. The mean tumour size was 3·0 (range 0·1–11·0) cm. The majority of patients (91 per cent) underwent total or near-total thyroidectomy. Distant metastases were detected in ten patients at the time of initial diagnosis and in three during follow-up. Locoregional recurrence had developed in six patients at follow-up. There were 13 deaths, with a median survival of 45 months. The 5- and 10-year survival rates were 87 and 80 per cent respectively. Six risk factors for mortality were selected for multivariate analysis using logistic regression; the presence of distant metastasis was the only significant risk factor for survival.