The invasive character of squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck represents a major challenge to the clinician since most often these tumors require extensive surgical resection impairing important physiological functions including speech and swallowing. Additionally, in many cases costly reconstructive surgery is required to repair the adverse cosmetic effects of the resective surgery. Thus, there is an urgent need to understand the molecular mechanism(s) which underlie the local and regional spread of this disease. Since the ability of tumor cells to invade into surrounding structures requires hydrolytic action much effort has been spent on identifying the hydrolases involved in this process. Some of the enzymes which have been implicated in the spread of head and neck cancer include the urokinase-type plasminogen activator and several members of the collagenase family such as type I and IV collagenases and the stromelysins synthesized either by the tumor cells or in the surrounding fibroblasts. More recent studies have addressed the mechanism(s) by which these hydrolases are overexpressed in invasive cancer. In the tumor cells themselves, work has focused on defining the transcriptional requirements for enzyme synthesis and addressing how the appropriate transcription factors are activated by signal transduction pathways. In contrast, where the hydrolases (e.g. stromelysin-2 and stromelysin-3) are produced by the fibroblasts, current investigations are directed at identifying tumor-derived growth factors which lead to the inducible expression of the enzymes in the stromal cells. The ultimate goal of these studies is to develop novel therapeutic interventions which decrease the invasive capacity of head and neck cancer leading to longer survival times and enhanced quality of life for patients afflicted with this disease.