Insight into the biogenesis of peptide hormones has grown explosively by elucidation of gene, mRNA and prohormone structures. In addition, information about prohormone processing enzymes is rapidly accumulating. Prohormones vary in size and organization from poly- to monoprotein structures. According to their structural organization and sequence homology, hormones are grouped in families. Prohormones are processed to bioactive peptides by multiple modifications during the transport from the endoplasmic reticulum to secretory granules. The modifications comprise different proteolytic cleavages and amino acid derivatizations. By constitutive secretion, the processing is less pronounced. The same prohormone may be expressed in several cell types that process the precursor in different ways. Awareness of cell-specific processing patterns is important for understanding the tumour synthesis of peptides and for appropriate diagnosis of peptide-producing tumours. These tumours comprise not only well-known neuroendocrine neoplasias. An increasing number of common carcinomas also expresses peptide hormone genes. However, the translation and post-translational processing in tumours are generally attenuated. Consequently, the expression is often functionally and clinically silent. A new diagnostic tool, processing-independent analysis (PIA), seems promising in quantitation of hormone gene expression at peptide level irrespective of the degree of processing. Studies of progastrin expression and processing in tumours illustrate the diagnostic superiority of PIA.