Parathyroid neoplasms encompass a spectrum of proliferative lesions that include adenomas, atypical adenomas, and carcinomas. While the diagnosis of adenomas is usually straightforward, parathyroid carcinomas (PTCAs) often present considerable diagnostic challenges. Fibrosis and mitotic activity are common in PTCAs, but these features are not specific for malignancy. An unequivocal diagnosis of PTCA should be restricted to those tumors that invade adjacent soft tissues, thyroid gland, blood vessels, or perineural spaces or to those cases with documented metastases. Atypical adenomas include those tumors that share some of the features of PTCA but lack evidence of invasive growth. A variety of genetic abnormalities, including HRPT2 mutations, occur in PTCAs. Mutations of the HRPT2 gene, which encodes parafibromin, are responsible for the development of the hyperparathyroidism-jaw tumor syndrome and have also been implicated in the development of a high proportion of sporadic PTCAs. Correlative immunohistochemical studies have revealed nuclear parafibromin immunoreactivity in adenomas but absence or partial loss of staining in PTCAs. While parafibromin immunohistochemistry represents an important step in the ability to diagnose PTCA, additional studies will be required to test the validity of this approach and to determine the roles of other genes in the development of these tumors.