We have developed a method for defining diagnostic algorithms for pathologic conditions based on fluorescence spectroscopy. We apply this method to human colon tissue and show that fluorescence can be used to diagnose the presence or absence of colonic adenoma. This method uses fluorescence excitation-emission matrices (EEM) to identify optimal excitation regions for obtaining fluorescence emission spectra which can be used to differentiate normal and pathologic tissues. In the case of normal and adenomatous colon tissue, these were found to be: 330, 370, and 430 nm +/- 10 nm. At these excitation wavelengths, emission wavelengths for use in diagnostic algorithms are identified from average difference and ratio of the spectra from normal and pathologic tissues. In colon tissue, at 370 nm excitation, 404, 480, and 680 nm were found to be useful emission wavelengths for diagnosing the presence of adenoma in vitro. The basis of colon tissue autofluorescence was investigated using EEM of pure molecules and relevant excitation-emission maxima in the literature.