The single cell gel electrophoresis (SCGE) assay, also known as the comet assay, is a cytogenetic technique for measuring and analyzing DNA single stranded breaks (SSB) and/or alkali labile sites within individual cells. Peripheral blood leukocytes of 22 oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC) patients were subjected to SCGE and the DNA damage levels (SSB) were quantified with respect to clinical staging and histopathologic grading. Highly statistically significant differences in DNA damage levels were found between normal subjects and patients with OSCC of the same age group. DNA damage levels were altered in all clinical stages and histopathological grades of oral squamous cell carcinoma. The differences were generally significant between all the clinical stages of OSCC, while in histopathologic grading the results were significant only between grades I and III. The results support the concept of a systemic host response in malignancy.