A study was made of the relationship between measurements of radiosensitivity versus proliferation and p53 status in head and neck cancers. Inherent tumour radiosensitivity was assessed as surviving fraction at 2 Gy (SF2) using a clonogenic soft agar assay (n = 77). The results were compared to data on proliferation obtained by both flow cytometry (labelling index (LI), the potential doubling time (Tpot) n = 55) and immunohistochemistry (Ki-67 and PCNA; n = 68), together with immunohistochemical p53 expression (n = 68). There were no overall significant differences in the median values of the various parameters analysed for the different sites within the head and neck region, disease stages, grades of tumour differentiation or nodal states. A subgroup analysis showed that oropharyngeal (n = 22) versus oral cavity (n = 35) tumours were more radiosensitive (P = 0.056) and had a higher Ki-67 index (P = 0.001). Node-positive tumours had higher LI (P = 0.021) and a trend towards lower Tpot (P = 0.067) values than node-negative ones. No correlations were seen between SF2 and any of the parameters studied. The long-standing dogma of an increased radiosensitivity of rapidly proliferating cells in contrast to slowly proliferating cells was not confirmed. The study shows that parallel measurements of different biological markers can be obtained for a large number of patients with head and neck cancers. The independence of the various parameters studied suggests that there may be potential for their combined use as prognostic factors for the outcome of radiotherapy.