Peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC) are being used as one alternative to autologous marrow rescue for patients with neuroblastoma and other solid malignancies. Some physicians prefer use of PBSC because less risk of tumor contamination is believed to exist. This hypothesis was evaluated by immunocytologic analysis of blood samples and concurrently drawn bone marrow (BM) samples and of PBSC harvests obtained from 31 patients with disseminated neuroblastoma. We found circulating neoplastic cells in 75% of specimens analyzed at diagnosis, in 36% during therapy, and in 14% of PBSC harvests. Tumor cells in blood obtained during therapy did not appear until 3 months after the time of diagnosis. Clearance of circulating neuroblastoma cells was documented after two courses of induction chemotherapy. Six of 13 patients with minimal or no BM disease had positive blood specimens. We conclude that substantial risk of tumor contamination of PB harvests exists and recommend that induction chemotherapy be administered before hematopoietic progenitor cells are collected from blood.