Microsatellite instability is an important characteristic of many tumor types especially those associated with hereditary non-polyposis colorectal carcinoma (HNPCC) syndrome. Microsatellite alterations in 50% of primary small cell lung carcinoma (SCLC) have been found. These alterations were also found in the sputum. Because neoplastic characteristics such as decreased strand stability9 and ras mutations have been found in the plasma DNA of cancer patients, we looked for microsatellite alterations in the plasma of SCLC patients. A microsatellite alteration was present in 16 out of 21 (76%) SCLC tumors and in 15 out of 21 (71%) plasma samples. In one case, the alteration was present only in the plasma DNA. If confirmed in larger studies, microsatellite analysis of plasma DNA might constitute a new tool for tumor staging, management and, possibly, detection.