The proto-oncogenes c-erbB-2 and epidermal growth factor (EGF) receptor which encode 2 closely homologous transmembrane glycoproteins have been found amplified and/or overexpressed in a range of epithelial malignancies. In a series of 46 head and neck squamous cell cancers (SCCs), immunohistochemical reactivity for the EGF receptor was detected in all cases, particularly at the invading edge of cellular islands of SCC and in the basal cells of normal adjacent squamous epithelium. Southern blot analysis demonstrated EGF receptor gene amplification in 3 cases. In contrast, strong membrane staining for the c-erbB-2 oncoprotein was not detected in any sample, and there were no cases of c-erbB-2 gene amplification. Despite a close structural and (presumed) functional homology between these 2 receptor-oncoproteins in the development of malignancy, we report that their expression in SCCs is markedly different. Furthermore, unlike the situation for breast cancer, quantitation of the c-erbB-2 or EGF receptor oncoproteins is unlikely to yield important prognostic information in this group of patients.