We have shown previously that the terminal disposition half-life of SN-38, the active metabolite of irinotecan, is much longer than earlier thought. Currently, it is not known whether this prolonged exposure has any relevance toward SN-38-induced toxicity. Here, we found that SN-38 concentrations present in human plasma for up to 3 weeks after a single irinotecan infusion induce significant cytotoxicity in vitro. Using pharmacokinetic data from 26 patients, with sampling up to 500 h, relationships were evaluated between systemic exposure (AUC) to SN-38 and the per cent decrease in absolute neutrophil count (ANC) at nadir, or by taking the entire time course of ANC into account (AOC). The time course of SN-38 concentrations (AUC(500 h)) was significantly related to this AOC (P<0.001). Based on these findings, a new limited-sampling model was developed for SN-38 AUC(500 h) using only two timed samples: AUC(500 h)=(6.588 x C(2.5 h))+(146.4 x C(49.5 h))+15.53, where C(2.5 h) and C(49.5 h) are plasma concentrations at 2.5 and 49.5 h after start of infusion, respectively. The use of this limited-sampling model may open up historic databases to retrospectively obtain information about SN-38-induced toxicity in patients treated with irinotecan.