To detect adenocarcinoma cells in the circulating peripheral blood, we "analyzed the presence of carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) mRNA in the peripheral blood obtained from patients with pancreatic carcinoma (PC) or with gastric carcinoma (GC) and also, as controls, from pancreatitis or gastritis patients without carcinomas, a gastric lymphoma patient and four healthy volunteers. Because of the small number of carcinoma cells expected in the peripheral blood, the analysis was performed by the reverse transcription followed by an original two-step polymerase chain reaction. By this sensitive method, 3 of 9 PC patients and 2 of 9 GC patients were positive for CEA mRNA. Except for 1 highly advanced PC patient, 3 of 4 CEA mRNA-positive patients developed recurrence after curative resection or liver metastasis after palliative operation within 9 months after the analysis. None of the control patients was positive for CEA mRNA in the peripheral blood. The results suggest that our sensitive RT-PCR method for detecting CEA mRNA in the peripheral blood is practically useful to find the hematogenous spreading of adenocarcinoma cells.