OBJECTIVE: To determine the role of irradiation in the management of brain metastases from epithelial ovarian cancer. METHODS: Tumor registries from five university cancer centers were searched to identify ovarian cancer patients with brain metastases. During a 30-year period (1965-1994), 4027 ovarian cancer patients were evaluated, 32 of whom were found to have cerebral metastases. Each received fractionated whole-brain irradiation (median dose 30 Gy, range 20-52.5). Five patients received concomitant chemotherapy with whole-brain irradiation. RESULTS: The median survival time for the whole population was 4 months. For the entire series, symptomatic response (complete response and partial response) was achieved in 23, 16 of whom were palliated until death. Patients with higher Karnofsky performance status (70 or above versus below 70) were more likely to derive a palliative response and attained a statistically significant survival advantage. No other factor predicted the likelihood of deriving a palliative response or a survival advantage after treatment. CONCLUSIONS: In this large review of patients with cerebral metastases from ovarian cancer, we found that most of those treated with whole-brain irradiation achieved palliation until death. Nearly all women with high performance status derived durable palliation from cerebral irradiation. Whole-brain irradiation was an effective means of palliating ovarian cancer metastatic to the brain and provided a favorable alternative to other means of management.