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Patterns of tumour spread are examined in 160 patients with squamous carcinomas of the head and neck with reference to perineural infiltration, direct invasion of bone and ossified cartilage, and lymph node metastases in the previously irradiated neck. Perineural spread is comparatively common in large (T3, T4) tumours; it may be apparent early in the disease; it is often detectable clinically; and it is an adverse prognostic feature which may modify clinical management. Direct bone invasion is described with particular reference to tumours of the oral cavity. Most bone destruction is mediated by osteoclasts which appear to be stimulated by materials such as prostaglandins released in the vicinity of the tumour. The numbers of involved lymph nodes in surgical dissections from the irradiated neck are usually few and restricted to the submandibular and jugular groups; nodes in the posterior triangle are infrequently involved by metastatic carcinoma. Transcapsular spread and keratin granulomas are common. The scope of modified neck dissections in this group of patients is discussed.