The aim of this study was to assess the timing of outpatient review appointments in relation to tumour recurrence. A retrospective review of 278 consecutive previously untreated patients with oral and oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) between 1995 and 1999 was performed. Information on the time of recurrence, site, presentation, treatment and outcome was collected. There were 54 (19%) patients who developed recurrent disease. Recurrence occurred at a median time of 8 months after the initial operation and most (49/54) within 2 years. Thirty-five patients (65%) presented with a new lump (7 local, 22 regional and 5 locoregional). Our policy is to review patients once a month for the first year and every other month for the second year. Patients were seen less frequently than expected, and one in five patients attended half or less than half as frequently as intended in the first year. Although 20 patients were aware of new symptoms from their recurrent disease fewer than half (9) brought their appointment forward. This study has emphasised the need for close clinical follow-up of patients previously treated for oral/oropharyngeal SCC if recurrent tumours are to be discovered and treated at the earliest opportunity.