Correct staging is crucial for the management and prognosis of patients with malignant melanoma. The aim of this prospective study was to compare staging by whole-body positron emission tomography using fluorine-18 fluorodeoxyglucose (18F-FDG) with staging by conventional methods. Thirty-eight patients with malignant melanoma of clinical stage II (local recurrence, in-transit and regional lymph node metastases) or III (metastases to other sites than in stage II) were included in the study. The results of the PET scans were compared with those obtained by clinical examination, computed tomography, ultrasound, radiography, and liver function tests and histology or clinical follow-up. With 18F-FDG PET we found for all foci a sensitivity of 97% and a specificity of 56%, compared with 62% and 22%, respectively, when using routine methods. For intra-abdominal foci, the sensitivity and specificity were 100% for both 18F-FDG PET and routine methods. Corresponding figures for pulmonary/intrathoracic foci were 100% and 33%, respectively. Of the patients included in this study, 34% would not have been staged correctly by conventional methods alone. We conclude from this study that 18F-FDG PET is a sensitive method superior to conventional methods for detecting widespread metastases from malignant melanoma. Mutilating surgery of no benefit can thereby be avoided. 18F-FDG PET is useful as a supplement to clinical examination in melanoma staging.