The aim of this study is to define the relationship between the tyrosinase expression in the peripheral blood and the clinical course of the disease in stage III disease-free melanoma patients after radical lymph node dissection. RT-PCR techniques were used to identify tyrosinase mRNA in 110 patients; a total of 542 blood samples were investigated. In all, 54 patients (49%) showed at least one positive result; 13 patients (11.8%) showed baseline positive results: six became negative thereafter, whereas seven showed follow-up positive results until disease progression occurred. One or more positive determinations were found during follow-up in 41 patients with negative baseline tyrosinase. No correlation was found between baseline results and the relapse rate or disease-free survival (DFS), whereas a significant correlation was found between positive tyrosinase results and disease recurrence during follow-up. In fact, 72.9% of positive patients relapsed, but only 19.3% of negative cases did so. The median interval between the positive results and the clinical demonstration of the relapse was 1.9 months (range 1-6.6). Disease-free survival multivariate analysis selected, as independent variables, Breslow thickness (P=0.05), lymph node involvement according to the AJCC classification (P=0.05) and tyrosinase expression (P=0.0001). In conclusion, RT-PCR tyrosinase mRNA expression is a reliable and reproducible marker associated with a high risk of melanoma progression and we encourage its clinical use in routine follow-up.