Differences in the oxygenation state of benign and malignant breast biopsies, and human breast cancer xenografts in immune-deficient mice were monitored using a spectrophotometer with integrating sphere. The breast biopsies were maintained below -50 degree(s)C and the mouse model tumors maintained in growth medium at 0 degree(s)C. Tissue sections 500 (mu) thick were allowed to come up to room temperature for mounting between quartz slides and were evaluated over the wavelength region 240 - 2500 nm. Data collection was done within 10 minutes of the removal of the biopsies from storage and, within 5 minutes for the xenografts. That this preparation protocol allowed us to study the samples very close to the in- vivo state was evident from the lack of deoxyhemoglobin in the benign samples. Component analysis performed in the 300 - 800 nm region showed that the malignant samples contained predominantly deoxygenated blood while the benign samples exhibited oxyhemoglobin signature. Absorption peaks due to fat and traces of bilirubin were also resolved in some of the samples. Assuming that the samples are very nearly representative of the in-vivo condition, these hemoglobin differences may well serve as a basis for imaging tumors or, for tissue characterization in a minimally invasive environment.© (1992) COPYRIGHT SPIE--The International Society for Optical Engineering. Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.