Cell surface adhesion molecule expression is likely to be important in inflammation, atherosclerosis and cancer, and soluble forms of many of these molecules are present in plasma. We measured levels of the soluble form of platelet endothelial cell adhesion molecule-1 (sPECAM) by ELISA in the serum of 77 patients with frank atherosclerosis, 69 patients with inflammatory connective tissue disease, and 39 patients with cancer. Each group of patients was controlled by an equal number of age- and sex-matched healthy subjects. There was no difference between sPECAM in patients with atherosclerosis and their matched controls or between patients with connective tissue disease and their controls. However, sPECAM levels were lower (16.6 +/- 5.0 ng/ml, mean +/- SD) in patients with cancer than in their controls (21.1 +/- 4.4 ng/ml, P < 0.001). No differences were found in sPECAM levels between the major subgroups of each type of disease, or as a result of factors such as age, sex or smoking in the controls. In contrast to levels of many other soluble adhesion molecules, levels of sPECAM are not altered in inflammatory or atherosclerotic vascular disease and therefore appear to have little relevance in these conditions. However, there may be significant differences in sPECAM levels in patients with low levels in cancer. Additional investigations are therefore justified.