Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) involves the upper aerodigestive tract and can destroy the structure and function of organs involved in voice, speech, taste, smell and hearing, as well as vital structures necessary for survival. HNSCC has long been a treatment challenge because of the high rate of recurrences and of advanced disease at the time of diagnosis. Molecular identification of tissue biomarkers in diagnostic biopsy specimens may not only identify patients at risk for developing HNSCC but may also select patients that may benefit from more aggressive treatment modalities. Several biomarkers studied to date such as the proteins p53, cyclin D1, p16, Cox-2 enzyme, epidermal growth factor and vascular endothelial growth factor receptors, matrix metalloproteinases and the Fhit marker for genomic instability could be manipulated for the therapeutic benefit of these patients. This review presents the most updated information on molecular biomarkers with the greatest prognostic potential in HNSCC and discusses some factors that contribute to the controversy concerning their prognostic importance.