The study was designed to investigate possible relationships between tumour response and exposure to cisplatin (area under the curve of unbound cisplatin in plasma, AUC) and DNA-adduct formation in leucocytes (WBC) in patients with solid tumours. Patients were treated with six weekly courses of cisplatin at a dose of 70 or 80 mg m-2. The AUC was determined during the first course and DNA-adduct levels in WBC during all courses at baseline, 1 h (A(max)) and 15 h after a 3 h infusion of cisplatin. The area under the DNA-adduct-time curve (AUA) was calculated. The tumour response was determined after six courses. Forty-five evaluable patients received 237 courses of cisplatin. Sixteen patients with head and neck cancer received a dose of 80 mg m-2 and 29 with various other tumour types received 70 mg m-2 plus daily 50 mg oral etoposide. There were 20 responders (partial and complete) and 25 non-responders (stable and progressive disease). The AUC was highly variable (mean +/- s.d. = 2.48 +/- 0.51 micrograms h-1 ml-1; range 1.10-3.82) and was closely correlated with the AUA (r = 0.78, P < 0.0001) and A(max) (r = 0.73, P < 0.0001). The AUC, AUA and A(max) were significantly higher in responders than in non-responders in the total population (P < 0.0001) and in the two subgroups treated at 70 or 80 mg m-2. In logistic regression analysis AUC, AUA and A(max) were important predictors of response. The magnitude of exposure to cisplatin is, through DNA-adduct formation, the major determinant of the response rate in this population. Hence, individualised dosing of cisplatin using AUC or DNA-adducts should lead to increased response rates.