There is a rapidly growing interest in the advanced analysis of histological data and the development of appropriate detection technologies in particular for mapping of nanoparticle distributions in tissue in nanomedicine applications. We evaluated photothermal (PT) scanning cytometry for color-coded imaging, spectral identification, and quantitative detection of individual nanoparticles and abnormal cells in histological samples with and without staining. Using this tool, individual carbon nanotubes, gold nanorods, and melanoma cells with intrinsic melanin markers were identified in unstained (e.g. sentinel lymph nodes) and conventionally-stained tissues. In addition, we introduced a spectral burning technique for histology through selective laser bleaching areas with nondesired absorption background and nanobubble-based PT signal amplification. The obtained data demonstrated the promise of PT cytometry in the analysis of low-absorption samples and mapping of various individual nanoparticles' distribution that would be impossible with existing assays. Comparison of PT cytometry and photoacoustic (PA) cytometry previously developed by us, revealed that these methods supplement each other with a sensitivity advantage (up to 10-fold) of contactless PT technique in assessment of thin (≤100 μm) histological samples, while PA imaging provides characterization of thicker samples which, however, requires an acoustic contact with transducers. A potential of high-speed integrated PT–PA cytometry for express histology and immunohistochemistry of both intact and stained heterogeneous tissues with high sensitivity at the zepromolar concentration level is further highlighted. © 2010 International Society for Advancement of Cytometry.