Formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded (FFPE) tissue samples represent a tremendous potential resource for biomarker discovery, with large numbers of samples in hospital pathology departments and links to clinical information. However, the cross-linking of proteins and nucleic acids by formalin fixation has hampered analysis and proteomic studies have been restricted to using frozen tissue, which is more limited in availability as it needs to be collected specifically for research. This means that rare disease subtypes cannot be studied easily. Recently, improved extraction techniques have enabled analysis of FFPE tissue by a number of proteomic techniques. As with all clinical samples, pre-analytical factors are likely to impact on the results obtained, although overlooked in many studies. The aim of this review is to discuss the various pre-analytical factors, which include warm and cold ischaemic time, size of sample, fixation duration and temperature, tissue processing conditions, length of storage of archival tissue and storage conditions, and to review the studies that have considered these factors in more detail. In those areas where investigations are few or non-existent, illustrative examples of the possible importance of specific factors have been drawn from studies using frozen tissue or from immunohistochemical studies of FFPE tissue.