CD9 is a transmembrane protein that has been implicated in cell adhesion, motility and proliferation, and numerous studies have demonstrated the prognostic value of its expression in different solid tumours. The purpose of this study is to determine the predictive value of CD9 in squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) of the head and neck. A total of 153 cases were examined for CD9 expression using immunohistochemistry applied on formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded tissue. Cases were stratified in two categories depending on CD9 expression, as positive (>/=50% positive cells) or reduced (<50%). In all, 108 cases were positive for CD9 (85 cases with membranous, and 23 with both membranous and cytoplasmic staining) and 45 reduced expression. Reduced CD9 expression was significantly associated with high grade (P=0.0007) and lower disease-free survival (DFS) (P=0.017). The latter retained its significance in the multivariate analysis. When the 23 cases with both membranous and cytoplasmic patterns were studied as a separate subgroup, there were significant associations between CD9 expression and tumour grade (P=0.025) (95% CI 11-68), tumour stage (P=0.08) (95% CI 3.5-86) and the occurrence of any failure (P=0.083) (95% CI -1.7-57). Immunohistochemical CD9 expression proved to be an independent prognostic factor in SCC of the head and neck, and it may detect patients at a high risk of recurrence. In addition, the cytoplasmic pattern seems to have an even more significant value. However, this finding is limited to the small number of cases with this pattern.