AIMS: To show that medullary carcinomas of the thyroid are morphologically indistinguishable from gut carcinoids: the value of histochemistry in their identification and differential diagnosis from metastatic carcinoid tumours to the thyroid and some follicular cell neoplasms. METHODS: 15 thyroid medullary carcinomas with features of gut carcinoids were histochemically studied for the presence of argyrophil and argentaffin granules, and calcitonin, thyroglobulin, and serotonin immunoreaction. RESULTS: Histological features of midgut (classic) carcinoids were observed in two tumours, foregut carcinoids in 12, and hindgut carcinoids in one. All tumours showed, to a greater or lesser extent, a calcitonin immunoreaction and argyrophilia. These markers were present only in a small area showing a classic pattern of thyroid medullary carcinoma in the hindgut carcinoid-like neoplasm. Argentaffin granules and serotonin immunostaining occurred in occasional cells from four foregut carcinoid-like tumours. Thyroglobulin was not expressed in all cases and amyloid stroma was expressed in three. CONCLUSIONS: In some cases a diagnosis of metastatic carcinoid tumour to the thyroid can be considered only after ruling out clinically and histochemically medullary carcinoma of the thyroid. Immunolocalisation techniques are also essential for the differentiation between medullary carcinoma and thyroid follicular cell neoplasms that resemble carcinoid tumours. It is proposed that this tumour variant to be incorporated into current classifications as another histological subtype of C cell carcinoma.