Both local and systemic infections may complicate the morbidity of patients with oral malignant neoplasms, particularly those presenting intraorally. This study investigated the microbial contents of the biofilms present on the surfaces of oral squamous cell carcinomas. Biofilm samples were obtained from the central surface of the lesions in 21 patients (20 male, 1 female) aged 52.8 (+/- 8.2) years, and from contiguous healthy mucosa, before any antibiotic therapy or any tumour treatment. All lesions were keratinising squamous cell carcinomas with surface ulceration. Samples were transported in reduced brain heart infusion (BHI) broth and cultured within 1 h of removal, using aerobic and anaerobic complete and selective media. The median number of anaerobic colony forming units (CFU/ml) at the tumour sites (1.6 x 10(8)) was significantly higher than for the healthy (control) mucosa (3.0 x 10(7); P = 0.0001, Wilcoxon); the same was true for aerobes at the tumour sites (1.51 x 10(8)) relative to the controls (2.8 x 10(7); P = 0.0008, Wilcoxon). The species isolated in increased numbers at tumour sites were Veillonella, Fusobacterium, Prevotella, Porphyromonas, Actinomyces and Clostridium (anaerobes), and Haemophilus, Enterobacteriaceae and Streptococcus spp. (aerobes). Candida albicans was found at eight of the 21 tumour sites, but never at control sites. It was concluded that human oral carcinoma surface biofilms harbour significantly increased numbers of aerobes and anaerobes as compared with the healthy mucosal surface of the same patient. Candida albicans can also be present in these biofilms. These findings must be considered in relation to the known predisposition of such patients to systemic infections, and to the unpleasant complications of oral morbidity due to infected lesions.