EWS/ets-oncogene fusion transcripts can be detected in at least 98% of Ewing tumors [(ET) Ewing sarcoma and peripheral primitive neuroectodermal tumor] by reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), thus confirming the histopathologic diagnosis. To detect minimal amounts of tumor cells in the bone marrow (BM), we used an RT-PCR assay with a high sensitivity, revealing one tumor cell in a background of 10(6) normal cells. We examined BM samples from 35 newly diagnosed ET patients (23 with localized and 12 with metastatic disease). At diagnosis, tumor cells in the BM were detected in 7/23 patients with localized disease (30%). Fifty percent of patients with isolated lung metastasis were RT-PCR positive (3/6), whereas 6/6 patients with bone metastases showed positive signals (100%). All patients with initial PCR positivity in the BM became negative during treatment. After a median follow-up of 30 months, relapses were observed in both groups of patients with localized disease (3/7 RT-PCR positive and 2/16 RT-PCR negative). The only recurrence in the group with isolated lung metastases occurred as progressive lung disease in 1 of the 2 RT-PCR-negative patients, whereas among the 6 patients with bone metastases 2 remain in complete remission. So far, RT-PCR screening for BM involvement did not allow prediction of early relapse in ET. To assess better the significance of this test in the evaluation of long-term prognosis and in monitoring the effectiveness of systemic therapy, long observation periods are warranted before it becomes a tool for treatment stratification.