Fifty-three patients with histologically proven carcinoma were injected with highly purified [131I]-labeled goat antibodies or fragments of antibodies against carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA). Each patient was tested by external photoscanning 4, 24, 36 and 48 h after injection. In 22 patients (16 of 38 injected with intact antibodies, 5 of 13 with F(ab')2 fragments and 1 of 2 with Fab' fragments), an increased concentration of 131I radioactivity corresponding to the previously known tumor location was detected by photoscanning 36-48 h after injection. Blood pool and secreted radioactivity was determined in all patients by injecting 15 min before scanning, [99mTc]-labeled normal serum albumin and free 99mTc04-. The computerized subtraction of 99mTc from 131I radioactivity enhanced the definition of tumor localization in the 22 positive patients. However, in spite of the computerized subtraction, interpretation of the scans remained doubtful for 12 patients and was entirely negative for 19 additional patients. In order to provide a more objective evaluation for the specificity of the tumor localization of antibodies, 14 patients scheduled for tumor resection were injected simultaneously with [131I]-labeled antibodies or fragments and with [125I]-labeled normal goat IgG or fragments. After surgery, the radioactivity of the two isotopes present either in tumor or adjacent normal tissues was measured in a dual channel scintillation counter. The results showed that the antibodies or their fragments were 2-4 times more concentrated in the tumor than in the normal tissues. In addition, it was shown that the injected antibodies formed immune complexes with circulating CEA and that the amount of immune complexes detectable in serum was roughly proportional to the level of circulating CEA.