The cell-cell adhesion molecule E-cadherin has been shown to suppress invasive growth of epithelial cells in vitro, and loss of its expression is thought to be important in invasion and metastatic potential of epithelial tumors in vivo. We retrospectively studied the level of E-cadherin expression in 50 primary head and neck squamous-cell carcinomas (HNSCC) by immunohistochemical methods, on frozen sections, using anti-E-cadherin monoclonal antibody (MAb) 6F9. It concerned patients with different stages of carcinoma of larynx or oral cavity who had been treated with curative intention 30 months or more before. Percentages of membranous stained tumor cells were scored in 1 of 5 categories. Scores were generally low, as in 11/50 lesions ≤5% cells were stained, and in 19/50 lesions only 6-25% cells showed membranous staining. In 9 lymph-node metastases evaluated, E-cadherin expression was in the same range as in the primary tumors. There was a significant correlation between the level of membranous E-cadherin expression in the primary tumor and the degree of differentiation. No relation was found with tumor size (pT) or regional lymph-node classification (pN). Nevertheless, 29 patients surviving ≥30 months without evidence of disease had significantly higher levels of membranous E-cadherin expression in their primary tumors than 10 patients with unfavorable clinical course clearly related to recurrent and/or metastatic HNSCC. Moreover, this could only partially be explained by distinctions in differentiation grade between both groups. Our results suggest that membranous E-cadherin expression has prognostic importance in patients with HNSCC.