Various histopathological techniques have been developed in order to improve the detection of micrometastasis in the regional lymph nodes of patients with malignant melanoma. Our standard histopathological examination of lymph nodes included haematoxylin and eosin (H & E) staining and immunohistochemistry (IH) using antibodies to HMB-45 and S-100 proteins of three paraffin sections at one level. In addition, lymph nodes were examined by molecular biological methods using tyrosinase reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). In this study, we investigated the use of step sections and IH in lymph nodes regarded as negative by standard histopathology but positive by tyrosinase RT-PCR, suggesting the presence of tumour cells. In a series of 76 consecutive patients with stage I and II cutaneous melanoma, a total of 156 regional lymph nodes were examined by H & E staining, IH and tyrosinase RT-PCR. All lymph nodes were bisected along their long axis for separate evaluation. In 21 patients, at least one lymph node in the regional nodal basin reported as tumour-negative by standard histopathology was demonstrated to express tyrosinase (total number of nodes = 33). These 33 lymph nodes were re-examined by H & E and IH at 10 additional levels of the paraffin block. Only one lymph node from one patient had occult melanoma cells in deeper levels detected exclusively by IH. Six out of 20 patients with positive findings exclusively on tyrosinase RT-PCR developed tumour recurrences during a median follow-up of 34 months. We therefore conclude that additional step sectioning with IH does not significantly increase the detection of tumour-positive lymph nodes. Patients with melanoma cells detected exclusively by RT-PCR, however, were shown to be at increased risk for tumour recurrence.