The aim of the present phase II study was to assess the activity and safety of gemcitabine-cisplatin combination in advanced NSCLC, and to evaluate the impact of this regimen in terms of symptom benefit and quality of life (QOL). Eighty patients with pathologically confirmed advanced (stage IIIB and IV) NSCLC were enrolled into this study. Gemcitabine was administered on days 1, 8 and 15 at a dose of 1000 mg/m(2), and cisplatin was given on day 2 at a dose of 100 mg/m(2). The cycles were repeated every 4 weeks. The impact of treatment on QOL and on tumor-related symptoms was evaluated with the validated EORTC forms (QLQ-C30 and LC-13). The regimen was relatively well tolerated. Myelosuppresion was the principal toxicity. Grade 3/4 neutropenia, thrombocytopenia and anemia occurred in 58, 65 and 30% of patients respectively. In 143 cycles (35%) the administration of gemcitabine on day 15 was omitted due to myelosuppresion. Non-hematological toxicities were generally mild. Among the 76 patients available for response evaluation, there were 5 complete responses (7%) and 26 partial responses (34%); an overall response rate of 41%. The median duration of response was 8.0 months. The median survival for all 80 patients was 11.0 months and the actuarial 1-year survival probability 45%. During therapy global QOL improved in 22% of patients and particular functional domains increased in 19-37% of patients. Dyspnea was released in 36% of patients, fatigue in 45%, chest pain in 38%, shoulder pain in 27%, cough in 44%, and hemoptysis in 75%. The mean intensity scores of the last three symptoms decreased significantly with therapy. Our study confirmed relatively high efficacy of the gemcitabine-cisplatin combination in patients with advanced NSCLC. Of particular importance was that treatment with gemcitabine-cisplatin combination in a large proportion of patients was also associated with remarkable symptomatic release and with improvement of QOL. However, the high frequency of myelotoxicity-related gemcitabine omissions on day 15 of the cycle indicates that modification of the schedule should be considered in standard care.