METHODS: Retroperitoneal soft tissue sarcomas are rare tumours. The management of these tumours has been difficult because of low resectability and a high recurrence rate. A retrospective review of a prospectively compiled database of 32 consecutive patients with retroperitoneal sarcomas treated at Oulu University Hospital between 1977 and 1996 was performed. RESULTS: The resectability rate of primary tumours was 75%, and 44% of the patients underwent radical resection. The recurrence rate after radical resection was 57% and the resectability rate for recurrent tumours after radical primary operation, 50%. The actuarial overall 5-year survival rate was 31%, 10-year survival rate 19% and median survival 36 months. In univariate analysis the principal factors associated with prognosis were radical resection, recurrent disease, pre-operative loss of weight and histological tumour grade. Complete excision of the primary tumour was the only significant predictor of survival in multivariate analysis. CONCLUSIONS: Complete resection of retroperitoneal sarcoma continues to be the most important prognostic factor. The inefficiency of adjuvant therapy, the high recurrence rate and the very low chance of curing the patient after recurrence make the prognosis of these patients poor.