Serum levels of group II phospholipase A2 (PLA2) have been reported to be associated with stage of disease in cancer patients. These levels are also related to the malignant potential in tissues, and are an important prognostic factor. We radioimmunoassayed group II PLA2 levels in pleural and peritoneal effusions from patients with various cancers. We also investigated the production of group II PLA2 in cells in effusions from cancer patients by Northern blotting, immunocytochemistry and in situ hybridization. Immunoreactive group II PLA2 levels were significantly higher in effusions from 47 patients with various cancers, compared with those in sera and cirrhotic ascites. There was no significant correlation between group II PLA2 levels in effusions and those in sera. Group II PLA2 mRNA was expressed at a high level in cells from effusions, by Northern blot analysis, but not in those cells from blood. The localization of group II PLA2 protein and mRNA was intense in carcinoma cells and CD68-positive macrophages, determined by immunocytochemistry and in situ hybridization. In addition, IL-6 and IL-8 levels were significantly higher in effusions, in comparison with those in sera from patients, suggesting that cancer cells and macrophages produce group II PLA2 by IL-6. These group II PLA2 levels are apparently significantly increased in effusions, and the carcinoma cells and macrophages produce group II PLA2, as noted in effusions from patients with various cancers.