The frequencies of mutations in the p53 tumor-suppressor gene and ras proto-oncogenes were investigated systematically in surgically resected oral squamous-cell carcinomas (SCCs) using single-strand conformation polymorphism (SSCP) and/or dot-blot hybridization analysis of DNA fragments which had been amplified by the polymerase chain reaction (PCR). p53 gene mutations, within the region of exons 5 to 8, were detected in 17 out of 27 (63%) tumor specimens. The role of p53 mutations in cell-line establishment was investigated. p53 gene mutations were detected in 5 out of 6 tissue samples from which cell lines were established and in 4 out of 5 specimens from which cell lines could not be established, suggesting that the presence of p53 gene mutations is not by itself sufficient for cell-line establishment. Tumor samples were also analyzed for point mutational activation of the ras proto-oncogenes. One out of 30 (3%) tumors showed an activating point mutation in codon 12 of H-ras, this being consistent with reports from Europe and USA but not with any from India. Compared to frequencies of the other genetic changes so far reported for oral SCC, the p53 mutations have been observed most often to undergo genetic change. p53 gene mutation is thus intimately involved in the genesis of oral SCC and consequently should be useful as a marker for the diagnosis of this neoplasm.