This study concerns the survival of European patients diagnosed between 1978 and 1989 with colorectal cancer. Variations in survival in relation to age, country and period of diagnosis were examined. Data from the EUROCARE study were supplied by population-based cancer registries in 17 countries to a common protocol. Five years after diagnosis, relative survival rates were 47 and 43% for cancers of the colon and rectum, respectively. Survival decreased with increasing age: the relative risk of dying for the oldest patients (75+) was 1.39 for rectum and 1.54 for colon compared with the youngest patients (15-44 years). In 1985-1989 survival from colorectal cancer differed significantly between different European countries: the Nordic countries (Denmark excluded), The Netherlands, Switzerland, France and Austria were characterised by high survival, whilst Eastern European countries, the U.K. and Denmark were characterised by low survival. There was a general improvement in survival over the period 1978-1989: from 40 to 48% for colon cancer and 38 to 46% for rectal cancer. For neither cancer site did between-country survival differences narrow over the study period. Intercountry and time differences in survival differences are probably related to stage at diagnosis and postoperative mortality.