Alterations of p53 have been explored in Taiwanese oral squamous cell carcinomas (OSCCs) consisting of a betel quid (BQ)/tobacco-related subgroup of 36 subjects and a tobacco-related subgroup of 13 subjects. Mutations in conserved exons were found in 12 tumors. Seven mutations were clustered in a hot-spot region mapped to a region between codons 273-282 in exon 8. The incidence of p53 mutation in BQ/tobacco tumors was 22% (8/36). The frequency of p53 allelic loss (21%, 3/14) in BQ/tobacco tumors approximates to the incidence of mutation. This is the first study demonstrating allelic deletion of p53 in such malignancies. Twenty-four of 43 samples showed positive p53 immunostaining. All tumors harboring mis-sense mutations of p53 in conserved exons exhibited nuclear protein accumulation. The incidence of mutation in conserved exons in BQ/tobacco-associated Asian OSCCs (15%) is significantly different from worldwide OSCCs (46%) related primarily to tobacco consumption (P=0.00001).