A high level of hypoxia in solid tumours is an adverse prognostic factor for the poor outcome of cancer patients following treatment. This review describes the status of research into finding a practical method for measuring hypoxia and treating hypoxic tumours. The application of such methodology would enable the selection of head and neck cancer treatment based on an individual's tumour oxygenation status. This individualization would include the selection not only of surgery or radiotherapy, but also of novel hypoxia-modification strategies. © 2006 The British Institute of Radiology.