Since 1980, 73 patients with Zollinger-Ellison syndrome (ZES) without radiographic evidence of liver metastases were studied on a prospective protocol including medical management of gastric acid hypersecretion, extensive radiographic tumor localization, and exploratory surgery to find and resect gastrinoma for potential cure. Each patient had gastric acid hypersecretion effectively controlled with either H2-blockers or omeprazole. Patients were divided prospectively into two groups, with all patients undergoing the same preoperative localization studies and extensive laparotomy. In contrast to group 1 (1980-1986) (36 patients), group 2 (1987-Oct. 1990) (37 patients) also underwent additional procedures (transillumination and duodenotomy) at surgery to find duodenal gastrinomas. Preoperative imaging studies localized tumor in 38 (52%) patients, and portal venous sampling for gastrin determinations was positive in 49 (67%) patients. Gastrinomas were found and resected in 57 (78%) patients. Significantly more gastrinomas (92% of patients) were found in group 2 than in group 1 patients (64%) (p less than 0.01). This increase was due to increased numbers of duodenal gastrinomas in group 2 than in group 1 patients (43% versus 11%; p less than 0.01). The increased ability to find duodenal gastrinomas did not significantly improve the immediate disease-free rate, which was 58% for all patients. Duodenal primary gastrinomas were found to have a significantly greater incidence of metastases (55%) and a significantly shorter disease-free interval (12 months) than pancreatic gastrinomas (22% and 84 months, respectively) suggesting that duodenal gastrinomas may be more malignant and not more frequently curable than pancreatic gastrinomas. Operations were performed with no deaths and 11% morbidity rate. Long-term follow-up showed that 50% of patients initially rendered disease free would develop recurrent disease by 5 years. Survival was excellent for all patients, and none died of malignant spread of the tumor or uncontrolled peptic ulcer disease, with a mean follow-up of 5 years. This finding is in contrast to patients who presented with metastatic disease on imaging studies and had a 20% 5-year survival rate. This study suggests that all patients with localized sporadic ZES can have the gastric acid hypersecretion managed medically, that overall survival of these patients is excellent, most (78%) can have all gastrinoma found and resected, and some (30%) will be cured (long-term disease-free survival).