The importance of mast cells in local homeostasis, inflammation and tumour surveillance is supported by many studies, and the association of mast cells with various neoplasms has been known for a long time. The functional significance of mast cells surrounding tumours is currently unclear. In the present histopathological study, 16 naevi and 44 primary malignant melanomas were analysed. The follow-up time after primary surgery of malignant melanoma patients was almost 10 years, during which time half of the tumours had metastasized. The numbers of mast cells surrounding pigmented lesions were determined. The mast cells were visualized using a modified toluidine blue staining (pH 0.5; 24 h). Significantly different numbers of mast cells were found in naevi compared to melanomas (P = 0.0013), but no significant correlation could be identified regarding prognostic parameters including tumour thickness and clinical outcome.