This two phase study was designed to observe the toxicity and effectiveness of retinoids on oral leukoplakia. The study design included patients who had visible and measurable oral leukoplakia without history of synchronous oral cancer or oral cancer within the previous 2 years. Documentation of the lesion by direct measurement and photography, as well as a biopsy at the beginning and at the end of the study (for verification of the histologic appearance of the lesion), were performed in each patient. Sixteen patients with oral leukoplakia were treated with 13-cis-retinoic acid formulated in a troche in the strength of 1 mg. Three patients received 3 mg/day, 8 patients received 5 mg/day, and 5 patients received 10 mg/day. The initial visible responding event appeared to be a thinning of the leukoplakia with reduction in the whitish surface leaving a reddish, velvety epithelium. If resolution occurred, the velvety area became pink, assuming the color and texture of the normal adjacent mucosa. Toxicity of the drug appeared to be acceptable among the evaluable patients. Of the 11 patients, 3 demonstrated complete response and 6 demonstrated partial response after 6 months of treatment with the drug under study. Recurrences developed in two of the three patients with complete response, and neither of the two showed complete histologic and cytologic regression. One of the patients with partial response went on to complete response after cessation of treatment. Under the condition of our study, a treatment effect was observed with small amounts of topical 13-cis-retinoic acid and that the level of toxicity was acceptable.