Both infrared and Raman spectroscopies have the potential to noninvasively estimate the biochemical composition of mammalian cells, although this cannot be unambiguously determined from analysis approaches such as peak assignment or multivariate classification methods. We have developed a fitting routine that determines biochemical composition using basis spectra for the major types of biochemicals found in mammalian cells (protein, DNA, RNA, lipid and glycogen), which is shown to be robust and reproducible. We measured both infrared and Raman spectra of viable suspensions of pairs of nontumorigenic and tumorigenic rat fibroblast cell lines. To model in vivo conditions, we compared nonproliferating, nontumorigenic cells to proliferating, tumorigenic cells. Reproducible differences in biochemical composition were found for both nontumorigenic/tumorigenic cell models, using both spectroscopic techniques. These included an increased fraction of protein and nucleic acids in the tumorigenic cells, with a corresponding decrease in lipid and glycogen fractions. Measurements of each cell type in both the proliferating and nonproliferating states showed that proliferative status was the major determinant of differences in vibrational spectra, rather than tumorigenicity per se. The smallness of the spectral changes associated with tumorgenicity may be due to the subtle nature of the oncogenic change in this system (a single mutant oncogene). © 2005 Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers.