The pathological assessment of surgical specimens during surgery can reduce the incidence of positive resection margins, which otherwise can result in additional surgeries or aggressive therapeutic regimens. To improve patient outcomes, intraoperative spectroscopic, fluorescence-based, structural, optoacoustic and radiological imaging techniques are being tested on freshly excised tissue. The specific clinical setting and tumour type largely determine whether endogenous or exogenous contrast is to be detected and whether the tumour specificity of the detected biomarker, image resolution, image-acquisition times or penetration depth are to be prioritized. In this Perspective, we describe current clinical standards for intraoperative tissue analysis and discuss how intraoperative imaging is being implemented. We also discuss potential implementations of intraoperative pathology-assisted surgery for clinical decision-making.