Tumour hypoxia can lead to a decrease in the biological effectiveness of radiation and alkylating agents. Few data are available on oxygen tension (PO2) in melanoma. In 20 patients with past history of melanoma, PO2 was evaluated in normal tissues and suspected metastatic lesions (nodes and skin metastases). Oxygen tension was measured using a needle probe technique (KIMOC-6650 histograph, Eppendorf, Germany), the day before the surgical removal of the suspected metastatic lesion. Histological confirmation of the malignant origin of the removed lesion was obtained in 18 cases. In two cases invasion by the known melanoma was not seen histologically. The median PO2 for normal tissues was 40.5 mmHg. For tumours, the median PO2 was 11.6 mmHg, and it was 17.1 mmHg in nodes and 6.7 mmHg in skin metastases. Very low values (< 2 mmHg) accounted for 20% of the recorded values in nodes and 15% in skin metastases. When analysed according to the node size (< or > or = 3 cm in diameter), the median PO2 was 10.4 mmHg in large nodes (six patients) and 53.3 mmHg in small nodes (six patients). For the two non-tumoral lesions, the median PO2 values were 20.9 and 25.1 mmHg, with no values below 10 mmHg. Thus a decrease in PO2 values, probably corresponding to tumour hypoxia, was found in most of the metastatic tumours when compared with normal tissues. The prognostic value of these PO2 measurements in melanoma remains to be demonstrated in the tumour response to radiotherapy or alkylating agents. However, tumour hypoxia can already be investigated as a target for new treatment modalities in metastatic melanoma.