An enzyme-linked immuno-absorbent assay has been developed for the detection of a circulating tumor-associated antigen, 90K, recognized by murine monoclonal antibody SP-2 (Iacobelli et al., Cancer Res 46: 3005-3010, 1986). This assay was found to be simple and reproducible. Using this method, 6% of 165 apparently healthy individuals and 15% of 91 patients with benign breast disease showed 90K levels above 1.7 units/ml. Approximately 50% of 129 patients with advanced breast cancer demonstrated serum antigen levels above 1.7 units/ml. All histological types of breast cancer were positive, and no association between the incidence of elevated 90K levels and other prognostic variables could be detected. The titers of 90K were significantly higher in sera from advanced-stage (3 and 4) patients than in those from patients with limited-stage (1 and 2) disease. Elevated 90K levels were also observed in patients with carcinomas of other sites, including gastrointestinal, gynecological, and lung tumors. By means of the immune blotting technique, the antigenic components carrying the determinants in serum and extracts of breast cancer cells have been identified. The levels of 90K did not correlate with those of CA 15-3 or CEA. The measurement of 90K in sera appears to be a useful adjunct to other available assays for the detection and monitoring of breast cancer and other malignant tumors.