This retrospective study reviews 39 patients with primary subglottic cancer seen between 1955 and 1988 by the Department of Otolaryngology at Washington University. This number constitutes 1.8% of laryngeal cancer cases diagnosed during this period. Twenty-eight patients (71.8%) had epidermoid cancer, of which 19 (67.9%) had 'early' disease (stages I and II), and nine (32.1%) had 'advanced' (stages III and IV). Overall 5-year survival was 57.7%. Disease-free survival was 46.2%. Patients treated with radiotherapy alone, surgery alone, or both had disease-free 5-year survivals of 22.2%, 41.7%, and 100%, respectively. Combination therapy showed a significantly higher (P < .01) disease-free survival than radiotherapy alone.