Collagen IV is a major component of the vascular basement membrane and may be a marker of angiogenesis. Serum levels of this protein are elevated in some human cancers. Our objectives were to compare collagen IV levels in the serum of breast cancer patients and healthy women and to examine changes during preoperative chemotherapy. Sera from 51 patients with stage II-III breast cancer and 55 healthy controls were analysed. Collagen IV level was measured by a commercially available sandwich enzyme link immunoassay. Baseline serum levels were compared between cancer patients and healthy women and paired pre- and post-chemotherapy measurements were also performed in 39 patients who received preoperative chemotherapy and were correlated with response to therapy. The median serum collagen IV concentration was significantly higher in cancer patients (166 microg l(-1)) than in healthy women (115 microg l(-1)), P<0.001. Chemotherapy induced a significant further increase in serum collagen IV (167 microg l(-1) prechemo vs 206 microg l(-1) postchemo, P=0.001). There were no correlations between baseline collagen IV levels and response to therapy, age, clinical stage or HER2 status. In conclusion, patients with breast cancer have elevated levels of collagen IV compared to healthy women and collagen IV levels increase further during chemotherapy.