Chronic graft-v-host disease (chronic GVHD) is a frequent cause of late morbidity and death after bone marrow transplantation (BMT). The actuarial survival after onset of chronic GVHD in 85 patients was 42% (95%Cl = 29%, 54%) at 10 years. Baseline characteristics present at the onset of chronic GVHD (before therapy) in 85 patients were reviewed to determine which were risk factors for death. In a multivariate proportional hazards analysis, three baseline factors emerged as independent predictors of death: progressive presentation (chronic GVHD following acute GVHD without resolution of acute GVHD; hazard ratio of 4.1, 95% Cl = 2.1 to 7.8), lichenoid changes on skin histology (hazard ratio of 2.2, 95% Cl = 1.1 to 4.3), and elevation of serum bilirubin greater than 1.2 mg/dL (hazard ratio = 2.1, 95% Cl = 1.1 to 4.1). Actuarial survival of 23 chronic GVHD patients with none of these risk factors was 70% at 6 years (95% Cl = 38%, 88%). Thirty-eight patients with one of these risk factors had a projected 6-year survival of 43% (95% Cl = 21%, 63%). The 29 patients with any combination of two or more of these factors had a projected 6-year survival of only 20% (95% Cl = 8%, 37%). Identification of baseline risk factors should facilitate design of trials of chronic GVHD therapies and assignment of high-risk patients to more aggressive innovative therapeutic regimens.