Staging of melanoma patients by means of whole body functional imaging in a single evaluation session using positron emission tomography (PET) with fluorine-18- labelled deoxy-d-glucose (FDG) as a metabolic tracer has created much interest over the last decade. After enthusiastic pilot studies, more attention has been paid to the false-negative and false-positive results of this technique than to its true therapeutic impact. This study aimed to evaluate (1) the sensitivity and specificity of this technique at a single lesion level compared with conventional screening procedures (CSP) - both of these accompanied by careful clinical examination; and (2) the additional value of the PET scan at the level of the individual patient and its therapeutic impact for different types of melanoma recurrence. A consecutive series of 100 PET scans performed on 84 melanoma patients with regional or distant recurrence according to CSP (89 PET scans) or suspicion of recurrence, i.e. inconclusive CSP (11 PET scans), were retrospectively analysed and compared with the CSP results. At the single lesion level, PET scan and CSP showed a sensitivity of 85 and 81%, a specificity of 90 and 87% and an accuracy of 88 and 84%, respectively. PET provided false-negative results for small skin metastases and brain involvement; false-positive results were associated with unrelated benign or malignant tumours and peripheral soft tissue and bone uptake. PET scan showed an additional value over and above CSP at the individual patient's level by true upstaging in 10 cases, true downstaging in 24 cases and depiction of more lesions within the same stage of disease in 15 cases. The overall therapeutic impact reached 26%: 17 out of 71 (24%) cases with regional recurrence, one out of 18 cases (5.5%) with distant metastasis and eight out of 11 cases (73%) with suspicion of recurrence where CSP remained doubtful. However, in 19 cases comparison between CSP and PET resulted in discordant findings, suggesting upstaging in one area and downstaging at another site within the same patient. In conclusion, PET scan has an additional value in the staging of recurrent melanoma, providing it is accompanied by careful clinical examination and specific brain imaging. However, in the absence of evidence of metastasis or unrelated conditions at the same site on CSP, PET spots may represent false-positive images, which would falsely upgrade a patient to an incurable state, or they may be early true-positive findings, which will become evident during close follow-up.