PURPOSE: Little is known about the prevalence of chronic postsurgical pain after gastrointestinal surgery. This study was designed to assess the prevalence of chronic pain and quality of life in a cohort of patients who underwent surgery for benign and malignant gastrointestinal disease. METHODS: A prospective cohort design was used to assess quality of life and morbidity at four years postoperatively in 435 patients who had upper, hepatopancreaticobiliary, small-bowel, and/or colorectal anastomotic surgery in 1999 at one regional center in Northeast Scotland. Chronic pain and quality of life were assessed by postal survey using the European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer Quality of Life-C30 questionnaire and McGill Pain Questionnaire. RESULTS: Of the 435 patients recruited in 1999, 135 (31 percent) had died by censor date in 2003. There was a 74 percent (n = 202) response rate from surviving patients eligible for follow-up. Prevalence of chronic pain at four years postoperatively was 18 percent (95 percent confidence interval, 13-23 percent). Pain was predominantly neuropathic in character; a subgroup reported moderate-to-severe pain. Risk factors for chronic postsurgical pain included female gender, younger age, and surgery for benign disease. Compared with those who were pain-free at follow-up, patients with chronic pain had poorer functioning, poorer global quality of life, and more severe symptoms, independent of age, gender, and cancer status. CONCLUSIONS: The prevalence of chronic pain after laparotomy for gastrointestinal malignancy and nonmalignant conditions at four years after surgery was 18 percent. These patients had significantly poorer quality of life scores independent of age, gender, and cancer status.