Somatostatin receptors are expressed by a large variety of human tumors. In vitro receptor autoradiographic studies have shown that these tumors can express more than one somatostatin receptor subtype. Whereas the majority of tumors bind octreotide with high affinity, some, i.e., prostate tumors, bind octreotide with low affinity only. The discovery of five somatostatin receptor subtypes, sst1-5, by gene cloning has increased our understanding of somatostatin receptor structure and function. Using in situ hybridization techniques, we found that various human tumors, identified as somatostatin receptor-positive in binding studies, expressed sst2 mRNA in the majority of cases, whereas sst1 and sst3 were less frequent. Often, all three sst were expressed simultaneously. In another recent in situ hybridization study, primary prostate cancers were shown to preferentially express sst1, rather than sst2 or sst3. Moreover, a high incidence of sst5 was found in growth hormone (GH)-producing pituitary adenomas and, to a lesser extent, in active pituitary adenomas; gastroenteropancreatic (GEP) tumors showed all possible combinations, but with a predominance of sst2. Overall, the presence of sst2 mRNA and/or sst5 generally correlated with the presence of octreotide-binding sites, but with exceptions. These results indicate the highly variable abundance of sst mRNAs in individual somatostatin receptor-containing tumors. Somatostatin receptors were not only found in tumoural tissue, but also in the peritumoral vascular system. This was particularly well studied in colorectal carcinomas, where the peritumoral veins were shown to express in all cases a high density of somatostatin receptors, probably of the sst2 type, binding octreotide with high affinity. Therefore, the host peritumoral vascular system may be a possible target of somatostatin action in tumor development. Somatostatin may act locally on tumor growth through two different mechanisms dependent on local somatostatin receptor expression: through direct action on tumor cells or through action on peritumoral vessels, which may alter the hemodynamics of the tumoral blood circulation.