Interleukin 10 (IL-10) is an immunosuppressive factor and has been detected in tumour cell cultures of renal cell carcinoma and of malignant melanoma. IL-10 has been described as a cytokine of the Th2 response; it is able to suppress antigen-presenting cells (APCs) and may lead to down-regulation of HLA class I and II molecules on dendritic cells and to anergy of T-lymphocytes. We evaluated pretreatment serum levels of soluble IL-10 and various clinical parameters to determine their prognostic value in 80 advanced renal cell carcinoma patients seen at our institution between May 1990 and April 1996. For statistical evaluation we used both univariate and multivariate Cox proportional hazards models. An elevated pretreatment serum level of IL-10 was a statistically independent predictor of unfavourable outcome (P < 0.0028), in addition to the well-known clinical and biochemical risk factors. These data support risk stratification for future therapeutic trials and identify a predictor which needs to be validated in prospective studies and may potentially influence decision making in palliative management of patients with metastatic renal cell carcinoma. These data also suggest a potential role of IL-10 in the development of advanced renal cell carcinoma and in the future design of therapeutic strategies.