Laboratory work aimed at improving the epidemiologic utility of an innovative genotoxicity assay is described. The exfoliated cell micronucleus assay involves microscopic analysis of epithelial smears to determine the prevalence of micronucleation, an indicator of structural or numerical chromosome aberrations. While the assay holds promise for the study of epithelial carcinogens, it is hampered by the fact that exfoliated cells are moribund and undergo degenerative phenomena that can produce extranuclear objects difficult to distinguish from classical micronuclei. Modifications in the protocol were assessed in sample buccal smears from several study populations: radiotherapy patients, nonusers of tobacco, and snuff users. Refinements in micronucleus scoring criteria and the inclusion of other nuclear anomalies in the scoring system are proposed. We demonstrate that our criteria are successful in detecting excess micronucleation in positive controls. We also provide evidence that other nuclear anomalies are at least as common as micronucleation and that therefore there is the potential for extensive misclassification. Reliability was assessed in duplicate readings.