Circulating neuron-specific enolase (NSE) and chromogranin A (CgA) were measured in 128 patients with neuroendocrine tumours (NET) to compare their sensitivity and specificity, to investigate factors associated with elevated serum levels and to determine the usefulness of these markers in the follow-up of NET patients. NSE (Cispack NSE, Cis Bio International, Gif-sur-Yvette, France; normal <12.5 microg l(-1)), and chromogranin A (CgA-Riact, Cis Bio International, normal <100 microg l(-1)) were measured in 128 patients without renal insufficiency. There were 99 patients with gastroenteropancreatic (GEP) NET, 19 with medullary thyroid carcinoma and ten with phaeochromocytoma. Fifty-three patients with non-NET were studied as controls. Serum NSE and CgA levels were elevated in 48 (38%) and 76 (59%) of the 128 NET patients respectively. In all groups of NET patients, CgA proved to be more sensitive than NSE. NSE and CgA had a specificity of 73% and 68% respectively. Immunostaining for NSE was positive in three out of eight controls with elevated CgA levels, whereas immunostaining for CgA and synaptophysin was negative in all cases. Elevated CgA levels were significantly associated with two independent parameters, namely the presence of other secretions (P = 0.0001) and a heavy tumour burden (P = 0.001). Elevated NSE levels were exclusively associated with poor tumour differentiation (P = 0.01). Among six patients with NET followed for 11-37 months, CgA appeared to be a better marker of tumour evolution than NSE. We suggest that CgA ought to be the only general marker screened in NET patients.