The effectiveness of hyperthermia in tumor therapy may depend on a lower extracellular pH of tumor compared to that of normal tissue. A technique for measuring extracellular pH in human tumors has been devised to test the usefulness of this parameter as prognostic indicator of tumor hyperthermia response. In a preliminary study 50 of 53 pH readings from 14 human tumors (both heated and unheated) were below normal physiological pH. Tumor pH values ranged between 5.55-7.69 (average for unheated tumors 6.81 +/- 0.09, SEM, only one determination was above 7.40). Although there was considerable heterogeneity of pH within tumors, the accuracy and drift of the 21 gauge needle electrode were not a problem. Fifteen minutes were required for pH stabilization after insertion of an 18 gauge open-ended catheter, and less than 5 min for equilibration after electrode insertion into the catheter. A saline wheal was used for anesthesia to preclude modification of pH by anesthetics. Central portions of tumors were no more acidic than peripheral regions, but large tumors tended to be more acidic than small tumors. The pH of several tumors of various sizes and histologies was also determined immediately before subsequent treatment sessions. These measurements were made by reinsertion of catheters in approximately the same locations at each session. The trend appeared to be that pH increased with the number of treatment sessions. Measurements of pH were made in four patients immediately prior to and at the termination of a heating session (same locations since catheter remained in place during heating sessions). Three of the four tumors showed increased pH readings of 0.25-0.54 units during heating. However, none of the four tumors achieved temperatures exceeding 42 degrees C. The pH measurement technique developed provides a safe and relatively easy method for determining extracellular pH in human tumors. There appears to be a correlation of pH values with tumor size, treatment session, and possibly blood flow.