The identification of circulating tumor cells in the peripheral blood of patients with malignant melanoma by detection of melanoma associated protein transcripts using the reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) technique has been introduced as a noninvasive and sensitive technique for early detection of tumor progression and metastatic disease. An alternative approach is the analysis of S-100 protein in the serum of melanoma patients by a luminoimmunometric assay (LIA). In this study, the sensitivities of RT-PCR and LIA were compared. Seventy-seven blood samples of 59 melanoma patients were analyzed for tyrosinase, Melan-A/MART-1, MAGE-3, gp100, and p97 expression by multimarker RT-PCR; 540 serum samples of 352 melanoma patients were analyzed for S-100 protein concentration by LIA. In stage III 23.8% and in stage IV 37.5% of the samples were positive for at least one marker in multimarker RT-PCR, versus 8.1% and 48.1% of elevated S-100 levels analyzed by LIA, respectively. In a direct comparison, 31 identical samples were analyzed by multimarker RT-PCR and by S-100 LIA. In stage III 18.2% and in stage IV 45% of the samples were positive by multimarker RT-PCR versus 45.5% and 80% by S-100 LIA, respectively. S-100 LIA was more sensitive in detection of metastatic disease in melanoma patients than multimarker RT-PCR and should be evaluated in further studies. RT-PCR might be more useful in the analysis of micrometastases in anatomic compartments other than peripheral blood.