The activity and toxicity of single-agent standard-dose doxorubicin were compared with that of two schedules of high-dose epirubicin. A total of 334 chemonaive patients with histologically confirmed advanced soft-tissue sarcomas received (A) doxorubicin 75 mg m(-2) on day 1 (112 patients), (B) epirubicin 150 mg m(-2) on day 1 (111 patients) or (C) epirubicin 50 mg m(-2) day(-1) on days 1, 2 and 3 (111 patients); all given as bolus injection at 3-week intervals. A median of four treatment cycles was given. Median age was 52 years (19-70 years) and performance score 1 (0-2). Of 314 evaluable patients, 45 (14%) had an objective tumour response (eight complete response, 35 partial response). There were no differences among the three groups. Median time to progression for groups A, B and C was 16, 14 and 12 weeks, and median survival 45, 47 and 45 weeks respectively. Neither progression-free (P = 0.93) nor overall survival (P = 0.89) differed among the three groups. After the first cycle of therapy, two patients died of infection and one owing to cardiovascular disease, all on epirubicin. Both dose schedules of epirubicin were more myelotoxic than doxorubicin. Cardiotoxicity (> or = grade 3) occurred in 1%, 0% and 2% respectively. Regardless of the schedule, high-dose epirubicin is not a preferred alternative to standard-dose doxorubicin in the treatment of patients with advanced soft-tissue sarcomas.