We performed a phase II study of combination chemotherapy with irinotecan, 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) and leucovorin in metastatic gastric cancer patients who were previously treated with taxane and cisplatin, to evaluate the antitumour activity and toxicity of the combination chemotherapy. The metastatic gastric adenocarcinoma patients who were previously treated with taxane and cisplatin combination as first line, and had at least one measurable lesion, 0-2 ECOG performance status and adequate organ functions, were considered eligible. They received irinotecan (150 mg m(-2), day 1) and leucovorin (100 mg m(-2), day 1), followed by continuous infusion of 5-FU (1000 mg m(-2) day(-1), days 1 and 2) every 2 weeks. Treatment was continued until progression of disease was observed. In all, 64 patients were treated with this combination chemotherapy. The median age of the patients was 55 years (range, 33-74 years), and the median ECOG performance status was 1 (0-1, 61 (95%)). Out of 64 patients, 57 were assessable for response. Among 57 assessable patients, no complete response and 12 partial responses were observed (overall response rate, 21%; 95% confidence interval (CI), 10-32%). Stable disease was observed in 14 patients (25%) and progressive disease in 31 patients (54%). The median time to progression was 2.5 months (95% CI, 1.6-3.4) and the median overall survival since the start of the second-line modified FOLFIRI was 7.6 months (95% CI, 6.5-8.7). Grade 3-4 haematologic toxicities included neutropenia in seven patients (11%) and thrombocytopenia in five patients (8%). Grade 3-4 nonhaematologic toxicities included diarrhoea in two patients (3%) and vomiting in two patients (3%). There were no treatment-related deaths. The combination of irinotecan, 5-FU and leucovorin showed moderate activity and favourable toxicity profile as a second-line treatment in metastatic gastric cancer patients, who were previously treated with taxane and cisplatin.