The fluorescence of tryptophan, reduced nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (phosphate) (NAD(P)H) and flavin adenine dinucleotide (FAD) were characterized in normal human breast cells as well as in malignant human breast cells of similar and dissimilar genetic origins. Fluorescence measurements of each cell line were made over a wide range of cell concentrations, and the fluorescence per cell was determined from the slope in the linear range of the fluorescence intensity vs cell concentration plot. All of the malignant cells showed a statistically significant decrease in the tryptophan fluorescence per cell relative to that of the normal cells. No statistically significant differences were observed in the NAD(P)H or FAD fluorescence per cell between the normal and any of the malignant cell types. NAD(P)H fluorescence was also imaged from monolayers of the normal and malignant cells (of similar genetic origin) using two-photon fluorescence microscopy. A statistically significant decrease in the NAD(P)H fluorescence with malignancy was observed, suggesting that fluorescence imaging of single cells or the cell monolayer preparation may provide more contrast than volume-averaged fluorescence measurements of cells in suspension. In conclusion, the differences in normal and malignant human breast tissue fluorescence spectra may be attributed in part to differences in the intrinsic cellular fluorescence of normal and malignant breast epithelial cells.