Oral lichen planus (OLP) is a common mucosal condition that is considered premalignant by some, although others argue that only lichenoid lesions with dysplasia are precancerous. To address the question of whether OLP without dysplasia is premalignant, we used microsatellite analysis to examine 33 cases of OLP for allelic loss at nine loci located on chromosomes 3p, 9p, and 17p. Loss of heterozygosity (LOH) on these three arms occurs frequently in oral tumors, and the presence of these alterations in premalignant lesions suggests that they may play an important role in tumor progression. Results were compared with those observed in oral dysplasias (10 mild, 11 moderate, 16 severe/carcinoma in situ), 22 oral squamous cell carcinomas, and 29 reactive lesions. LOH was present in 6% of OLP, 14% of reactive lesions, 40% of mild dysplasia, 46% of moderate dysplasia, 81% of severe dysplasia/carcinoma in situ, and 91% of squamous cell carcinomas. LOH was detected on only a single arm in OLP and reactive lesions but occurred on more than one chromosome in dysplasia and cancer, and the frequency of this multiple loss correlated significantly with increasing degrees of dysplasia and progression into squamous cell carcinoma (P = 0.0028). Although these findings do not support OLP as a lesion at risk for malignant transformation, such results need to be confirmed by use of other genetic markers as OLP may undergo malignant transformation through genetic pathways different from those of oral dysplasia.