The diagnostic and therapeutic impact and the cost-effectiveness of positron emission tomography (PET) using 18F-fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG) will depend on the role for which the tests are used. In 68 patients with advanced malignant melanoma, original sets of FDG-PET images from various institutes were compared with findings obtained by ultrasonography, conventional radiology, computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging. In 22 patients, all examinations were undertaken within 2 weeks and strategies of staging were analysed. In 46 patients, only some of these examinations were performed within this time period, and comparison of methods was restricted to the examined organs. The occurrence of metastasis, without specifying the number of foci, was detected by either conventional staging with CT or by PET in 20 of 22 patients. None of these patients were up- or down-staged by FDG-PET compared with CT staging. In the 68 patients as a whole, FDG-PET detected fewer pulmonary and hepatic metastases and fewer cerebral foci, but more lymph node and bone metastases than conventional radiology or CT. For the detection of lymph node or skeletal metastases, false-positive FDG-PET findings were taken into account when compared with follow-up data. In advanced melanoma, FDG-PET did not influence the pattern of subsequent diagnostic testing. Thus, indications for FDG-PET include pre-metastatic melanoma, localized lymph node metastases and monitoring of the response to treatment.