Many papers have been written on the effect of age on survival from cancer and a number of these papers have concentrated on cancer of the head and neck. The literature is fairly evenly split between those studies that claim that the young patient has a better chance of survival and those that suggest the older patient has a better chance of survival. The present study investigates 2647 patients with histologically proven squamous cell carcinoma of the oral cavity, oropharynx, larynx and hypopharynx. The tumour-specific 5-year survival of patients with head and neck cancer from the third decade through to the seventh decade at presentation was 54%, whereas this figure dropped to 44% for the eighth, ninth and tenth decades. This difference was statistically significant (P = 0.0001). When the patients in the third to seventh decades of presentation were compared with those from the eighth to tenth decades, it was found that older patients tended to have significantly more advanced disease at the primary site and fewer neck node metastases when compared with younger patients at presentation. These differences were confirmed by multiple logistic regression. Multivariate analysis of survival confirmed that advanced age was associated with poor survival (P = 0.0001). Whilst patients with head and neck cancer in their eighth, ninth and tenth decades fared worse than younger patients, their mean tumour specific survival at 5 years was in the region of 44%, which makes treatment worthwhile, certainly in selected cases.