A more accurate method of detecting nodal disease in squamous cell carcinoma of the tongue is needed so that treatment of the neck with its associated morbidity can safely be reserved for patients who actually have metastatic disease. Tumor angiogenesis and the expression of the p53 antigen--which have each been shown to be predictive of metastasis in breast and colon cancer, respectively--are examined for their ability to predict neck metastasis in tongue cancer. Fifty-seven patients with T1 and T2 squamous cell carcinoma of the oral tongue, whose neck disease was examined by dissection or by 2-year follow-up, were studied. Twenty-eight patients (49%) were node positive and 29 patients (51%) were node negative. The primary tumors were immunohistochemically stained for the p53 antigen and for factor VIII, which allowed the blood vessels within the tumor to be quantitated. The mean vessel counts per x200 high-power field were 59.8 and 61.5 for node-positive and node-negative patients, respectively (p = 0.8). Node-positive patients showed overexpression of p53 43% of the time, vs. 61% for node-negative patients (p = 0.17). Multivariate analysis confirmed that no difference in tumor angiogenesis or the expression of the p53 antigen was found between tumors that had metastasized and those that had not. Therefore neither tumor angiogenesis nor the p53 tumor marker is clinically useful in determining lymph node metastasis in these patients.