In 50 patients with primary hyperparathyroidism, investigation before initial neck exploration included ultrasonography, computed tomography and 99technetium-201thallium subtraction scintigraphy. The sensitivity for correct preoperative localization was 50%, 54% and 56%, respectively. There was marked inter-observer variation in assessment of ultrasonography and computed tomography, while scintigrams were evaluated by only one person. The scintigraphic sensitivity increased with size of the glands. In cases where correct preoperative localization permitted unilateral parathyroidectomy, the time for surgery and anesthesia was significantly reduced. A cost-benefit analysis, however, revealed that the financial saving from this time reduction was outweighed by the cost of the localization procedures. The authors conclude that investigations for definition of enlarged parathyroid glands are not indicated prior to unilateral parathyroidectomy.