This study was undertaken to evaluate plasma levels of interleukin-1 beta (IL-1 beta), tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-beta), basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF), epidermal growth factor (EGF), and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) in 3 pediatric and 14 adult patients receiving radiotherapy for brain tumor. Patients with glioblastoma, astrocytoma, chondrosarcoma, meningioma, schwannoma, and lung adenocarcinoma that had metastasized to the brain were included. Peripheral blood samples were collected before and after treatment with conventional photon and/or proton radiation; samples from healthy volunteers served as controls. Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays were performed to quantitate the cytokines. Before irradiation, most patients had greater amounts of one or more of the cytokines compared with the mean obtained for control plasma. This was especially striking in patients with chondrosarcoma; the mean values for TGF-beta 1, TNF-alpha, bFGF, and EGF were 1458, 1289, 332, and 92% higher than in healthy subjects, respectively. After irradiation, bFGF and total TGF-beta 1 decreased in the majority of tested subjects. In contrast, IL-1 beta was detected only in pediatric patients (all with astrocytoma) and its levels after radiation were 33 to 67% higher than at pretreatment. EGF was found in four patients; post-treatment values were 125 to 608% higher in three of the individuals. These data show that cytokines are present at elevated concentrations in the blood circulation of patients with certain types of brain tumors and that changes in their levels can be detected after radiotherapy. Further investigations are warranted to determine whether these findings contribute to morbidity or therapeutic outcome.