The objective of the study was to evaluate the effect of neoadjuvant chemotherapy on the survival of patients with oropharyngeal cancer. Patients with a squamous cell carcinoma of the oropharynx for whom curative radiotherapy or surgery was considered feasible were entered in a multicentric randomized trial comparing neoadjuvant chemotherapy followed by loco-regional treatment to the same loco-regional treatment without chemotherapy. The loco-regional treatment consisted either of surgery plus plus radiotherapy or of radiotherapy alone. Three cycles of chemotherapy consisting of Cisplatin (100 mg/m2) on day 1 followed by a 24-hour i.v. infusion of fluorouracil (1000 mg/m2/day) for 5 days were delivered every 21 days. 2-3 weeks after the end of chemotherapy, local treatment was performed. The trial was conducted by the Groupe d'Etude des Tumeurs de la Tête Et du Cou (GETTEC). A total of 318 patients were enrolled in the study between 1986 and 1992. Overall survival was significantly better (P = 0.03) in the neoadjuvant chemotherapy group than in the control group, with a median survival of 5.1 years versus 3.3 years in the no chemotherapy group. The effect of neoadjuvant chemotherapy on event-free survival was smaller and of borderline significance (P = 0.11). Stratification of the results on the type of local treatment, surgery plus radiotherapy or radiotherapy alone, did not reveal any heterogeneity in the effect of chemotherapy.