A phase II study was conducted to evaluate the activity of pemetrexed in patients with locally recurrent or metastatic breast cancer. 38 patients, median age 52 years (range 36-71 years), were given pemetrexed 600 mg/m(2) as a 10-min intravenous (i.v.) infusion every 3 weeks. Median time from diagnosis to study entry was 48 months (range 14.7-310 months). 33 of 38 patients had prior chemotherapy; 16 adjuvant, 12 metastatic and 5 in both settings. Sites of disease included skin and soft tissue (19/38) nodes (18/38), lung (17/38), liver (13/38) and bone (3/38). An overall response rate of 28% (95% confidence interval (CI): 14.2-45.2%) in 10/36 evaluable patients (1 complete response (CR), 9 partial responses (PR)), included reductions in hepatic and pulmonary metastases. 5 of 10 responders had received taxoid or anthracycline therapy for metastatic disease; 3 of these 5 had also received adjuvant chemotherapy. Median duration of response was 8 months (range 1.6-14+ months), and median survival was 13 months (95% CI 9.56-17.38 months). 167 courses were given (median five per patient; range 1-9), with 37 reductions and 33 delays. Reasons for reduction included neutropenia (11%) and mucositis (5%), with delays due to raised LFTs (21%), neutropenia (12%) and other non-treatment related events. The major haematological toxicities (Common Toxicity Criteria) (CTC) were grade 3/4 neutropenia (47%) and thrombocytopenia (15.7%) of patients. There was one report of a grade 3 infection. Non-haematological toxicities (all grades 2/3) included elevated transaminases (92%), vomiting (34%), nausea (34%) and mucositis (32%). One episode of grade 4 diarrhoea was reported. Other toxicities included a skin rash, grade 2 (42%), 3 (5%) and 4 (13%), which was ameliorated by the use of prophylactic dexamethasone. These results suggest that pemetrexed has significant antitumour activity in advanced breast cancer with responses in patients who had previously received anthracyclines and taxoids.