The clinical value of the reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) assay for tyrosinase in peripheral blood of melanoma patients is still under debate. A total of 212 blood samples from 212 melanoma patients in all clinical stages (AJCC) were examined. Erythrocytes were lysed prior to RNA extraction by phenol precipitation from 2.7 ml of blood. cDNA for tyrosinase PCR was synthesized using random hexamers. Positive tyrosinase RT-PCR results were obtained in 11% of 106 stage I patients, 18% of 56 stage II patients, 31% of 26 stage III patients and 67% of 24 stage IV patients. After a median follow-up of 36 months (range 26-41), stage III patients with positive RT-PCR for tyrosinase had a shortened disease-free interval as compared to negative patients (P < 0.01). In stage IV patients, median overall survival was 8 months in case of a positive RT-PCR in contrast to 12 months in case of a negative test. While univariate analysis showed sex and primary tumour location associated with positive RT-PCR, multiple regression analysis revealed clinical stage and detection of tyrosinase transcripts in peripheral blood as best prognostic factors. Hazard ratios for disease-free survival were 19.7 (confidence interval (CI) 8.53-45.5, P = 0.0001) for metastatic vs primary disease and 2.96 (CI 1.49-5.89, P = 0.002) for positive vs negative tyrosinase RT-PCR. The corresponding hazard ratios for overall survival were 97.0 (CI 12.7-741, P = 0.0001) and 4.33 (CI 1.69-11.1, P= 0.002). Our results emphasize the importance of tyrosinase RT-PCR testing in peripheral blood.