Human head and neck squamous cell carcinomas (HNSCC) that produce high levels of granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) have been shown to contain CD34+ natural suppressor cells that inhibit the activity of intratumoral T-cells. The present study evaluated whether GM-CSF production and the presence of CD34+ cells within primary HNSCC would translate into increased recurrence, metastasis or cancer-related death during the 2 years following surgical excision. Freshly excised primary HNSCC of 20 patients that subsequently developed disease, and of 17 patients that remained with no evidence of disease were analyzed for production of GM-CSF and for CD34+ cell content. The cancers of patients that subsequently developed recurrences or metastatic disease produced almost 4-fold the levels of GM-CSF and had approximately 2.5-fold the number of CD34+ cells as did cancers of patients that remained disease-free. In a second method of analysis, the prognostic significance of high vs. low GM-CSF and CD34+ cell values was evaluated. These analyses showed that patients whose cancers produced high GM-CSF levels or had a high CD34+ cell content had a disproportionately high incidence of recurrence or metastatic disease (94% and 100%, respectively), while the majority of patients whose primary cancers produced low levels of GM-CSF or had a low CD34+ cell content remained disease-free (16% and 19%, respectively). Our results indicate that the presence of CD34+ cells in GM-CSF-producing HNSCC is associated with a poorer prognosis for the cancer patients and suggest the utility of these parameters as prognostic indicators of outcome. Mechanistically, our results suggest that the presence of immune suppressive CD34+ cells in GM-CSF-producing HNSCC leads to increased tumor recurrence or metastasis.