In a prospective study abdominal paracentesis with ascitic fluid aspiration was performed in 54 consecutive patients with ascites of unknown cause. The ascitic fluid was examined cytologically and bacteriologically. The total cholesterol concentration was measured with an enzymatic colorimetric method. Malignant disease was diagnosed in 34 patients. Two of them had both malignant disease and liver cirrhosis and were excluded. Seventeen patients had liver cirrhosis, one had acute pancreatitis, and two had decompensated heart disease. The diagnostic value of an ascitic cholesterol concentration greater than 1.2 mmol/l in terms of predicting malignant disease was 87.5% (95% confidence limits, 71.0-96.5). The predictive value of an ascitic cholesterol concentration less than or equal to 1.2 mmol/l in terms of benign disease was 80.0% (95% confidence limits, 56.3-94.3). It is concluded that ascitic cholesterol measurement is a valuable supplement to cytologic examination in distinguishing between ascites of malignant and benign origin.