Nineteen patients with recurrent or refractory ovarian carcinoma after a first-line platinum-based chemotherapy were treated with a 3-hour i.v. infusion of paclitaxel 175 mg/m2 every 3 weeks from November 1992 to October 1996. The major hematologic toxicity was neutropenia (63.2%). No febrile neutropenia was observed. Other hematologic effects were leukopenia (47.4%) and anemia (47.4%). The main non-hematologic toxicities were as follows: neuropathy (52.6%), nausea and vomiting (36.8%), myalgia (36.8%), cardiac toxicity (15.8%) and mucositis (10.5%). Alopecia was observed in the majority of cases. The overall response rate was 47.4%, with 5 (26.3%) complete responses (CRs) and 4 (21.1%) partial responses (PRs). The median duration of response was 7 months (range: 3-19), with a median follow-up of 17 months (range: 3-61). Quality of life of responding patients was good. Our results confirm that paclitaxel as second-line therapy in relapsed and refractory ovarian cancer patients is an acceptable treatment with a good safety profile, and can be safely administered at the dose of 175 mg/m2. In our study paclitaxel was more active in relapsed than in refractory patients. Consequently, further studies are needed to identify more effective drugs for the refractory subset.