Nucleosomes appear spontaneously in elevated concentrations in the serum of patients with malignant diseases as well as during chemo- and radiotherapy. We analyzed whether their kinetics show typical characteristics during radiochemotherapy and enable an early estimation of therapy efficacy. We used the Cell Death Detection Elisaplus ( Roche Diagnostics) and investigated the course of nucleosomes in the serum of 32 patients with a local stage of pancreatic cancer who were treated with radiochemotherapy for several weeks. Ten of them received postsurgical therapy, 21 received primary therapy and 1 received therapy for local relapse. Blood was taken before the beginning of therapy, daily during the first week, once weekly during the following weeks and at the end of radiochemotherapy. The response to therapy was defined according to the kinetics of CA 19-9: a decrease of CA 19-9 650% after radiochemotherapy was considered as `remission'; an increase of >= 100% ( which was confirmed by two following values) was defined as `progression'. Patients with `stable disease' ranged intermediately. Most of the examined patients showed a decrease of the concentration of nucleosomes within 6 h after the first dose of radiation. Afterwards, nucleosome levels increased rapidly, reaching their maximum during the following days. Patients receiving postsurgery, primary or relapse therapies did not show significant differences in nucleosome values during the time of treatment. Single nucleosome values, measured at 6, 24 and 48 h after the application of therapy, could not discriminate significantly between patients with no progression and those with progression of disease. However, the area under the curve of the first 3 days, which integrated all variables of the initial therapeutic phase, showed a significant correlation with the progression-free interval ( p = 0.008). Our results indicate that the area under the curve of nucleosomes during the initial phase of radiochemotherapy could be valuable for the early prediction of the progression-free interval. Copyright (C) 2005 S. Karger AG, Basel.