Metastasis is the process by which cancers spread to distinct sites in the body. It is the principal cause of death in individuals suffering from cancer. For some types of cancer, early detection of metastasis at lymph nodes close to the site of the primary tumor is pivotal for appropriate treatment. Because it can be difficult to detect lymph node metastases reliably, many individuals currently receive inappropriate treatment. We show here that DNA microarray gene-expression profiling can detect lymph node metastases for primary head and neck squamous cell carcinomas that arise in the oral cavity and oropharynx. The predictor, established with an 82-tumor training set, outperforms current clinical diagnosis when independently validated. The 102 predictor genes offer unique insights into the processes underlying metastasis. The results show that the metastatic state can be deciphered from the primary tumor gene-expression pattern and that treatment can be substantially improved.