PURPOSE: The majority of patients with early gastric cancer show long-term survival after surgery. So a special attention must be directed to preserving gastric function in these patients. When node-negative early gastric cancer could be diagnosed preoperatively, then minimally invasive surgery can be performed to ensure a postoperative better quality of life. MATERIALS AND METHODS: The pathological records of 2,137 consecutive patients with early gastric cancer who underwent curative operations from January 1986 to December 1998 at Seoul National University Hospital were reviewed. RESULTS: Lymph node metastases were observed in 285 patients (13.3%). In mucosal carcinoma, lymph node metastases were observed in 50 of 1,108 cases (4.5%), and in submucosal carcinoma, in 234 of 1,026 cases (22.8%). The tumor size, depth of invasion and gross appearance were associated with lymph node metastasis. In mucosal carcinoma, the size and histologic differ entiation were associated with lymph node metastasis. In submucosal carcinoma, the size and gross appearance were associated with lymph node metastasis. CONCLUSION: In early gastric cancer, the limited surgery can be applied only to cases satisfying the following criteria; (1) mucosal tumor, (2) size < or =2 cm, (3) elevated type or (4) depressed type which are histologically differentiated and (5) size < or =1 cm among the depressed type his tologically undifferentiated.