Twenty-four patients with locally advanced breast carcinoma were given thermoradiotherapy, and heat-induced damage to tissue and vasculature was studied in relation to thermal dose. Thermometry was performed using six to eight multi-point thermistor probes. Heat-induced damage was quantified by histopathological analysis of biopsies taken from the temperature probe locations shortly after treatment. Both tumour and normal tissue were found in the biopsies. Fraction of tissue and fraction of vessels with heat-induced damage were determined for the malignant and the normal tissue compartment separately, using stereological techniques. Clear relationships were found between these parameters and the largest thermal dose achieved in one heat fraction. The data were subjected to logit analysis, and the thermal doses (eqv. min at 43 degrees C) that caused massive necrosis in 50% of the tissue were calculated to be 116 +/- 31 for the malignant tissue compartment and 205 +/- 49 for the normal tissue compartment. Similarly, the thermal doses that caused damage to 50% of the vessels were found to be 63 +/- 34 and 144 +/- 46 for the malignant and the normal tissue compartment, respectively. Thus, the tumour tissue was more sensitive to heat than was the surrounding normal tissue, irrespective of whether necrosis or vessel damage was considered. This was probably a consequence of physiological and vascular differences between the two tissue compartments. Evidence for primary and secondary cell death was found both in the malignant and the normal tissue, although primary cell death probably was of minor importance in the normal tissue. The data indicate that selective heat-inactivation of tumour tissue is possible by external microwave hyperthermia of locally advanced breast carcinoma.