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Lack of success in parathyroid surgery is usually due to failure to identify the abnormal parathyroid gland correctly at operation. The surgeon may be helped by rapid parathyroid hormone (PTH) assay in peripheral blood after removal of a suspected adenoma, and by frozen section histology, but these are not true localization techniques. We have adapted a non-isotopic immunoassay for rapid measurement of PTH in samples from the upper, middle and lower thyroid veins taken at operation, before exploration begins. Fifteen patients with primary hyperparathyroidism were operated on. In 10 the parathyroid adenoma was located easily, and was associated with high local venous PTH levels. In four patients the abnormal parathyroid was not immediately apparent but the assay indicated its location, which was confirmed after further exploration. In one patient there was no difference in PTH levels in the six venous samples. An ectopic adenomatous gland was successfully identified behind the thymus. The operation was successful in all patients as shown by a fall in the plasma calcium to the normal range. We conclude that intra-operative selective venous sampling and rapid PTH assay facilitates operative localization of parathyroid adenomas.