An understanding of the relationship between tissue structures and light scattering from tissue will help facilitate the development and acceptance of noninvasive optical diagnostics including elastic scattering spectroscopy, diffuse reflectance, and optical coherence tomography. For example, a quantitative model of the structures that scatter light in epithelial cells would allow determination of what structures control the characteristics of in vivo light transport measurements and subsequently could provide a detailed relationship between cellular structures and optical measurements. We have determined the size distribution of refractive index structure variations in epithelial cells as well as in nuclei isolated from epithelial cells from measurements of the angular dependence of polarized light scattering. The quantitative size distributions we obtained for both whole cells and isolated nuclei include particles with effective radii of 2 μm to 10 nm or less and contain orders of magnitude more small particles than large particles. These results demonstrate that not only are biological cells very heterogeneous, but so are the nuclei within them. Light scattering is likely sensitive to structures smaller than those commonly investigated by standard pathology methods. © 2002 Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers.