Mass spectrometric (MS) approaches developed for tissue identification in surgical environments are reviewed. MS Imaging (MSI) techniques enable the direct analysis of human tissue and can be used as an alternative means for margin assessment. While MSI-based approaches were demonstrated to improve the examiner-related variance of the data, the time demand and the cost of these analyses remained high. Furthermore, the necessity of MS expertise for the clinical deployment of these techniques has hindered large-scale clinical testing. The advent of ‘ambient’ MS methods contributed to the application of MSI techniques in this field, however alternative methods have been developed for the direct analysis of tissue samples without sample preparation. One group of methods employs surgical tissue manipulation for ionization while the other one uses minimally invasive probes for sampling prior to ionization. The methods are summarised and compared with regard to the information delivered, turnaround time and tissue identification performance.