Salivary gland scintigraphy with technetium-99m pertechnetate was used to follow changes in the excretion and uptake function of the major salivary glands until 1 year after irradiation. Twenty-five patients who received radiotherapy for head and neck tumours were included in the study. Seventy-nine salivary glands (39 parotid and 40 submandibular) were evaluated in relation to the average received radiation dose. Salivary gland scintigraphy was performed before and 1, 6 and 12 months after radiotherapy. For each gland the excretion response to carbachol, evaluated by calculation of the salivary excretion fraction (SEF), the cumulative gland uptake (CGU) and the absolute excreted activity (AEA) at various intervals after radiotherapy were compared with the baseline values. The excretion response decreased in 20 of 25 patients at 1 month after radiotherapy. One month after radiotherapy both SEF and AEA decreased significantly in relation to the radiation dose. These decreases in excretion parameters persisted during the follow-up period. Parotid excretion was affected significantly more than submandibular excretion. CGU values did not change significantly until 6 months after radiotherapy, but at 12 months a significant decrease related to radiation dose was observed. Xerostomia was assessed during radiotherapy and on the days of the scintigraphic tests. The incidence of xerostomia did not correspond to the effects observed in the scintigraphic studies. It is concluded that radiotherapy induces early and persistent impairment of salivary gland excretion, related to the radiation dose. This impairment is stronger in parotid glands than in submandibular glands.