Natural killer (NK) cell lymphomas lack suitable clonal markers for tumour cell detection, making the monitoring of minimal residual lymphoma difficult. Aberrant promoter CpG methylation occurs frequently in NK cell lymphomas. The objective of this study was to assess the potential of aberrant methylation as a surrogate tumour marker. Twenty-five primary tumours and 105 serial biopsies taken at various time points after treatment were examined using a methylation-specific polymerase chain reaction (MSP) for a panel of genes, comprising p73, p16, hMLH1, RARbeta and p15, previously shown to be methylated in NK cell lymphomas. All samples underwent independent morphological examination, supplemented by immunostaining for CD56 and in-situ hybridization for Epstein-Barr-virus-encoded RNA. Primary tumours showed the frequent methylation of the genes p73 (92%), p16 (71%), hMLH1 (61%), RARbeta (56%) and p15 (48%). MSP results in serial post-treatment biopsies were correlated with clinicopathological findings. Results were concordant in 89 follow-up samples (18 samples, histology positive/MSP positive; 71 samples, histology negative/MSP negative) and discordant in 16. Fifteen samples were histology negative/MSP positive, and tumour involvement was subsequently confirmed (positive re-biopsies or relapses at the same sites), indicating that MSP was more sensitive for minimal lymphoma detection. One sample was histology positive/MSP negative; a subsequent histological review and continuous clinical remission of the patient did not support tumour involvement. Our findings suggest that MSP for aberrantly methylated genes is a potentially valuable molecular marker for detecting either residual or relapsed disease in NK cell lymphoma patients.