This study presents data on 3,011 pleural and peritoneal effusion specimens that were examined over a three-year period (1982 to 1984). Totals of 812 (44%) of 1,846 pleural and 423 (36%) of 1,165 peritoneal specimens were positive for malignant cells. While 535 patients had malignant pleural effusions, 254 patients had malignant peritoneal effusions, and 57 had both malignant pleural and peritoneal effusions. The most common primary neoplasms causing malignant pleural effusions were carcinomas of breast (24%) and lung (19%) and lymphoreticular neoplasms (16%). The most common primary neoplasms causing malignant peritoneal effusions were carcinomas of ovary (32%) and breast (13%) and lymphoreticular neoplasms (7%). There was an average interval of more than 30 months between the histologic diagnosis of the primary neoplasm and the diagnosis of malignant effusions in patients with carcinoma of breast, lymphoreticular neoplasm and malignant melanoma. The average time until death following the diagnosis of a malignant effusions was five months or less, except for patients with carcinoma of the breast and carcinoma of the ovary. One hundred twenty-five patients (15%) presented with malignant effusions caused by neoplasms of unknown primary sites. The most common primary neoplasms that were later diagnosed were, in decreasing order of frequency, carcinoma of the ovary, carcinoma of the lung and lymphoreticular neoplasms.