To evaluate the role of carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) in solving problems of tumor histogenesis in surgical pathology, monoclonal antibodies to four distinct epitopes of CEA (E-Z-EM) were applied to paraffin sections of 303 epithelial neoplasms from multiple sites. Two epitopes were CEA specific (D14 and B7.1), one was shared with nonspecific cross-reacting antigen (NCA) (B7.8), and the fourth (B18) was common to CEA, NCA, and biliary glycoprotein antigen (BGP). A sample of the tumors (n = 110) was also stained with a polyclonal anti-CEA (DAKO). Gastrointestinal adenocarcinomas, including esophageal and gastric (n = 19), small intestinal (n = 8), colorectal (n = 56), biliary tract (n = 8), and pancreatic adenocarcinomas (n = 14), were consistently positive with all five antibodies. Other predominantly gland-forming carcinomas tested, comprising lung (n = 22), ovary (n = 18), and endometrium (n = 12), were either invariably negative with all five antibodies (endometrial adenocarcinoma, non-mucinous ovarian adenocarcinoma) or demonstrated selective and variable positivity (lung: D14, 50%; ovarian mucinous: D14, 50%). Among large polygonal cell carcinomas (hepatocellular carcinoma, renal cell carcinoma, melanoma, and adrenal carcinoma), only hepatomas stained positively, showing a distinctive canalicular staining pattern with the B18 (BGP epitope) (55%) and polyclonal antibody (50%). In the small polygonal cell carcinoma category, true CEA positivity was rare in breast (D14, 10% and B7.1, 14%) and never seen in prostatic carcinomas and carcinoid tumors. A subset of these breast (8 of 42), prostate (4 of 22), and carcinoids (4 of 7) showed exclusive positivity for the B18 antibody (NCA/BGP epitope). Ovarian serous papillary carcinomas (n = 14), papillary carcinomas of thyroid (n = 12), transitional cell carcinomas of the bladder (n = 11), and mesotheliomas (n = 3) were negative with all monoclonal antibodies. Metastatic carcinomas (n = 74) showed a similar pattern of reactivity to primary tumors. The authors conclude that CEA immunostaining may assist in identifying the histogenesis of epithelial tumors in several morphologic categories; that differential reactivities of the CEA monoclonal antibody panel exceed those of the polyclonal antibody; and that the discriminating power of the monoclonal panel is related to whether (1) CEA is or is not produced or (2) NCA or BGP is produced without concomitant CEA production. There is little evidence to support a concept of site-specific CEA species.