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ABSTRACT: To evaluate the clinical significance of the detection of circulating melanoma cells in patients treated with adjuvant interferon and to determine their potential value as a marker of interferon response. We prospectively analyzed 616 peripheral-blood samples from 120 melanoma patients with stage IIA (n = 33), IIB (n = 22), III (n = 50), or IV (surgically resected) (n = 15) disease receiving adjuvant interferon alfa-2b therapy. Tyrosinase mRNA was assayed by reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) as a marker of circulating melanoma cells before the start of interferon and every 2 to 3 months thereafter. With a median follow-up time of 32.3 months (range, 7.1 to 77.5 months), 47 patients (39.8%) relapsed and 31 (26%) died. During adjuvant interferon treatment, 76 patients (64%) had undetected circulating melanoma cells and 44 patients (36%) had a positive RT-PCR result in at least one sample. Actuarial 5-year disease-free survival was 62% in patients with persistently negative RT-PCR during interferon treatment and 38% for patients with positive RT-PCR during interferon (P =.02). Actuarial 5-year overall survival was 75% and 50%, respectively (P =.03). Patients with melanoma and tyrosinase mRNA detected in the blood during adjuvant interferon therapy had a worse prognosis compared with patients with undetected tyrosinase mRNA during treatment. Further investigation into the detection of circulating melanoma cells as a surrogate marker of response to adjuvant interferon therapy is warranted.