Microsatellite allele losses are characteristic features of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma and can be used as molecular markers for malignancy. We have investigated the detection of microsatellite allele loss in mouth washes and lesions brushings from 19 patients with squamous cell carcinoma of the oral cavity and oropharynx as a means of tumour detection. In 84% of the analysed cases, allele loss previously identified in the tumour of these patients, was detected in these easily obtained specimens. No alterations were found in material derived from 10 healthy individuals. Success of detection was independent of tumour stage, suggesting that this approach may be useful for early diagnosis as well as for follow-up.