Resection is not a viable treatment option for the majority of liver cancer patients. Alternatives to resection include thermotherapies such as radio-frequency ablation; however, these therapies lack adequate intraoperative feedback regarding the degree and margins of tissue thermal damage. In this proof of principle study, we test the ability of fluorescence and diffuse reflectance spectroscopy to assess local thermal damage in vivo. Spectra were acquired in vivo from healthy canine liver tissue undergoing radio-frequency ablation using a portable fiber-optic-based spectroscopic system. The major observed spectral alterations on thermal coagulation were a red shift in the fluorescence emission peak at 480 nm, a decrease in the overall fluorescence intensity, and an increase in the diffuse reflectance from 450 to 750 nm. Spectral changes were quantified and correlated to tissue histology. We found a good correlation between the proposed spectral correlates of thermal damage and histology. The results of this study suggest that fluorescence and diffuse reflectance spectroscopy show strong potential as tools to monitor liver tissue thermal damage intraoperatively. © 2004 Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers.