Members of the cytochrome P450 and glutathione S-transferase supergene families are candidates for susceptibility and outcome in oral squamous cell cancer. We determined GSTM1, GSTM3, GSTT1, CYP1A1 and CYP2D6 genotypes in 100 Caucasian cases and 467 control individuals. The frequency of homozygosity for mutant CYP2D6 alleles was higher in the cases (P = 0.001, OR = 3.2, 95% CI = 1.6-6.5) than control individuals. In the cases, the frequency of homozygosity for mutant alleles was greater and that of homozygosity for wild-type CYP2D6 alleles was lower in those diagnosed at > or = 65 years (P = 0.009) than in those diagnosed at < or = 64 years. The older cases included relatively more women and patients who did not consume tobacco or alcohol. The association of CYP2D6 with outcome was assessed using the Cox's proportional hazards model. The time to first cervical node metastasis was shorter in heterozygotes and homozygotes for mutant CYP2D6 alleles compared with homozygotes for wild-type alleles after correction for age at diagnosis, gender, alcohol and tobacco consumption and tumour differentiation (P = 0.04, hazard ratio 3.6, 95% CI 1.1-12.5). The mechanism for the association of CYP2D6 alleles with susceptibility and outcome is unclear though the data are compatible with the view that homozygosity for mutant alleles confers impaired detoxication of an unknown carcinogen. No associations between GSTM1, GSTM3, GSTT1 or CYP1A1 genotypes and susceptibility or, time to node metastases were identified. We previously showed that CYP2D6 genotypes were not associated with susceptibility to squamous cell cancer in the pharynx or larynx. Therefore, the data presented suggest that susceptibility to squamous cell cancer in the various parts of the upper aerodigestive tract is associated with different genes and allelic variants.