The aim of the present study was to evaluate the role of a weekly preoperative chemotherapy in locally advanced, unresectable gastric cancer. In all, 82 patients with an Eastern Oncology Cooperative Group PS <or=2 and normal cardiac function were enrolled onto the study. Surgical unresectability was confirmed in 52 patients (63%) at laparotomy, and in 30 (27%) cases by CT scan of the abdomen and endoscopic ultrasonography. Chemotherapy treatment was: cisplatin 40 mg x m(-2); 5-fluorouracil 500 mg x m(-2); epidoxorubicin 35 mg x m(-2); 6S-leucovorin 250 mg x m(-2) and glutathione 1.5 g x m(-2) (PELF). One cycle consisted of 8 weekly treatments. Response to chemotherapy was observed in 40 of 82 patients (49%): six (7%) complete and 34 (41%) partial responses, and in four (5%) cases a complete pathological response was confirmed. Of the 40 responding patients, 37 (45%) had potentially curative surgery. Grade 3/4 leucopenia and thrombocytopenia occurred in three and two patients. At a median follow-up of 48 months, 25 of the 37 resected patients (68%) were alive and 24 (65%) were disease free. The median and 4-year survival for the whole group was 17 months and 31%, respectively. The median survival was 12 months for inoperable patients and it was not reached in resected patients.