Most adenomas and carcinomas of the small intestine and extrahepatic bile ducts arise in the region of the papilla of Vater. In familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) it is the main location for carcinomas after proctocolectomy. In many cases symptoms due to stenosis lead to diagnosis at an early tumor stage. In about 80%, curative intended resection is possible. Operability is the most relevant prognostic factor. Most ampullary carcinomas resp. carcinomas of the papilla of Vater develop from adenomatous or flat dysplastic precursor lesions. They can be sited in the ampulloduodenal part of the papilla of Vater, which is lined by intestinal mucosa. They also can develop in deeper parts of the ampulla, which are lined by pancreaticobiliary duct mucosa. Intestinal-type adenocarcinoma and pancreaticobiliary-type adenocarcinoma represent the main histological types of ampullary carcinoma. Furthermore, there exist unusual types and undifferentiated carcinomas. Many carcinomas of intestinal type express the immunohistochemical marker profile of intestinal mucosa (keratin 7-, keratin 20+, MUC2+). Carcinomas of pancreaticobiliary type usually show the immunohistochemical profile of pancreaticobiliary duct mucosa (keratin 7+, keratin 20-, MUC2-). Even poorly differentiated carcinomas, as well as unusual histological types, may conserve the marker profile of the mucosa they developed from. These findings underline the concept of histogenetically different carcinomas of the papilla of Vater which develop either from intestinal- or from pancreaticobiliary-type mucosa of the papilla of Vater. Molecular alterations in ampullary carcinomas are similar to those of colorectal as well as pancreatic carcinomas, although they appear at different frequencies. In future studies, molecular alterations in ampullary carcinomas should be correlated closely with the different histologic tumor types. Consequently, the histologic classification should reflect the histogenesis of ampullary tumors from the two different types of papillary mucosa.