The growth of primary cell cultures of oesophageal cancer was compared with the clinical outcome of patients from whom the cancers were taken. Ninety-three patients underwent curative resection, with no operative deaths, and were divided into three groups according to the monolayer culture pattern of the primary cell culture: culture from 43 patients (46 per cent) grew no malignant cells (group 1), 21 (23 per cent) produced monolayer epithelial growth (group 2) and the rest (from 29 patients) established cell lines (group 3). The 5-year survival rate of patients in group 2 (29 per cent) and group 3 (23 per cent) was significantly lower (P < 0.005) than that of those in group 1 (51 per cent). Monolayer epithelial growth potential is a significant prognostic factor in patients with oesophageal cancer.