Immunohistochemistry is entering its fourth decade of use on formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded tissues. Over this period the method has evolved to become a major part of the practice of diagnostic surgical pathology worldwide. From the beginning immunohistochemistry has been adapted to provide a range of markers of cell lineage and tissue type, with particular application to the diagnosis and classification of tumours. In this modality immunohistochemical methods were employed simply as 'special stains', the results of which were evaluated qualitatively by the pathologist, as for any other stain. More recently, attention has shifted to the demonstration of prognostic markers in tumour cells, driven by the advent of molecular biology and the discovery of numerous regulatory molecules, coupled with manufacture of the corresponding specific antibodies. Immunohistochemistry has rapidly adapted to this new use, but in so doing the demand for quantification has become paramount; it is no longer enough that the 'stain' is there; rather it is a question of 'How much is there?'. This review explores the limitations of immunohistochemistry when employed in a semiquantitative mode, and explores the possibility of fulfilling the full potential of immunohistochemistry, as a true quantitative immunoassay applied in a tissue section environment.