Interstitial photodynamic therapy (PDT) using the pegylated photosensitizer PEG-m-THPC was evaluated as a minimally-invasive procedure to selectively debulk unrespectable pelvic ovarian cancer (NuTu-19) in immunocompetent rats. To assess tumour selectivity, PEG-m-THPC at dosages of 0.3, 3.0 and 30 mg kg(-1) body weight was administered intravenously to 30 rats 4 weeks following tumour induction. Eight days later laser light at 652 nm and optical doses ranging from 100 to 900 J cm(-1) diffuser-length was delivered by an interstitial cylindrical diffusing fibre inserted blindly into the pelvis. Three days following light application, the volume of necrosis was measured and the damage to pelvic organs was assessed histologically on cross sections. For analysis of survival, 20 tumour-bearing rats received PDT using drug doses of 3 or 9 mg kg(-1) body weight and an optical dose of 900 J cm(-1) diffuser-length, whereas ten untreated tumour-bearing rats served as controls. The histological assessment of PDT induced necrosis showed a non-linear dose-response for both the photosensitizer dose and the optical dose. The lowest drug dose activated with the highest optical dose did not induce more necrosis than seen in tumour-bearing control animals. The same optical dose induced necrosis of 17 mm in diameter using 30 mg kg(-1) and 11 mm using 3 mg kg(-1) photosensitizer. The optical threshold for induction of significant necrosis was between 100 and 300 J cm(-1) diffuser-length for 30 mg kg(-1) and between 300 and 500 J cm(-1) for 3 mg kg(-1) PEG-m-THPC. Significant damage to normal pelvic organs was only seen if 30 mg kg(-1) photosensitizer was activated with optical doses of 700 J cm(-1) or more. In the survival study, all treated animals survived PDT for at least 2 weeks and the intestinal and urinary tract remained functional. No clinical signs of blood vessel or nerve injury were observed. Mean overall survival of untreated tumour-bearing rats was 25.0 +/- 4.5 days compared to 38.4 +/- 3.8 days and 40.0 +/- 3.6 days for rats treated with 3 mg kg(-1) or 9 mg kg(-1) PEG-m-THPC mediated PDT respectively (P < 0.05). We conclude that PEG-m-THPC mediated PDT has a favourable therapeutic window and that this minimally-invasive procedure can reduce pelvic cancer bulks effectively and selectively.