Minimal information has been published about the results of palliative irradiation for squamous cell carcinoma metastatic to cervical lymph nodes from an unknown head and neck primary site. Forty patients with this diagnosis were treated at the University of Florida with radiation therapy with palliative intent. The nodal response rate was 65% and the symptomatic response rate was 57% at 1 year. The absolute survival rate was 25% at 1 year, as was the cause-specific survival rate. Radiotherapy successfully palliates mon than half of those treated. Approximately one fourth are alive 1 year after irradiation. (C) 2001 Elsevier Science Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.