In order to evaluate adjunctive histologic methods for separating mesothelioma (MM) and serous adenocarcinoma (SC), we studied 28 and 46 respective cases histochemically and immunohistochemically. Ten serous adenocarcinomas arose primarily in extraovarian sites within the abdomen. Diagnoses in each case were established retrospectively by a combination of electron microscopy and clinicopathologic correlation. A panel of antibodies to cytokeratin (CK), epithelial membrane antigen (EMA), B72.3, placental alkaline phosphatase (PLAP), S-100 protein, carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA), Leu M1, CA-125, and amylase (AM) was applied to paraffin sections of each case. Serous carcinoma was reactive for neutral mucins whereas mesothelioma was not; however, only 50% of adenocarcinoma cases stained in this manner. Peritoneal mesothelioma showed reactivity for CK (28 of 28 cases), EMA (24 of 28 cases), AM (five of 28 cases), CA-125 (four of 28 cases), and S-100 protein (three of 28 cases), but lacked B72.3, PLAP, and CEA. Three mesotheliomas expressed Leu M1, but in an extremely focal distribution. Serous carcinoma reacted for CK (46 of 46 cases), EMA (46 of 46 cases), CA-125 (42 of 46 cases), S-100 protein (40 of 46 cases), Leu M1 (34 of 46 cases; with diffuse staining), B72.3 (33 of 46 cases), PLAP (29 of 46 cases), AM (15 of 46 cases), and CEA (six of 46 cases). Two profiles (S-100 + B72.3; S-100 + PLAP) were seen in 41 of 46 serous adenocarcinoma cases but were absent in all mesotheliomas. Hence, these combinations of determinants are effective in separating such neoplasms diagnostically. Moreover, diffuse reactivity for Leu M1, B72.3, PLAP, or CEA in papillary peritoneal neoplasms appears to exclude the possibility of mesothelioma; however, focal Leu M1 reactivity may indeed be seen in mesothelioma. Although CA-125 is a sensitive marker for serous carcinoma, it is not effective in distinguishing it from mesothelioma.