The development of second primary tumors has a negative impact on the prognosis of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma. Previously, we detected genetically altered and tumor-related mucosal lesions in the resection margins in 25% of unselected head and neck squamous cell carcinoma patients (Tabor MP, Brakenhoff RH, van Houten VMM, Kummer JA, Snel MHJ, Snijders PJF, Snow GB, Leemans CR, Braakhuis BJM: Persistence of genetically altered fields in head and neck cancer patients: biological and clinical implications. Clin Cancer Res 2001, 7: 1523-1532). The aim of this study was to determine whether first and second primary tumors are clonally related and originate from a single genetically altered field. From 10 patients we analyzed the first tumor of the oral cavity or oropharynx, the >3-cm remote second primary tumor, and the mucosa from the tumor-free margins from both resection specimens. We compared TP53 mutations and loss of heterozygosity profiles using 19 microsatellite markers at chromosomes 3p, 9p, 13q, and 17p. In all patients, genetically altered mucosal lesions were detected in at least one resection margin from both first and second primary tumor. Evidence for a common clonal origin of the first tumor, second primary tumor, and the intervening mucosa was found for at least 6 of 10 patients. Our results indicate that a proportion of multiple primary tumors have developed within a single preneoplastic field. Based on different etiology and clinical consequences, we propose that independent second primary tumors should be distinguished from second field tumors, that arise from the same genetically altered field the first tumor has developed from.