Following clinical diagnosis of a recurrent tumor, curative treatment is seldom available. Depending on the size of the recurrent tumor and the patient's general health condition extensive surgical resections and reconstructions are avoided in favor of non-surgical palliative intended treatment modalities. According to the literature location of the tumor, tumor size, as well as R-1- and R-2-resection rates are the most frequent reasons for the development of recurrent tumors. In a retrospective evaluation a population of 1000 patients who were treated for a primary head and neck cancer during the period from 1979 to 1996 were analysed descriptively. Survival probabilities of patients with recurrent tumors were calculated according to the product-limit method by Kaplan-Meier, different treatment concepts were compared and analysed with the log-rank test for significant differences. The largest proportion of primary tumors involved the floor of mouth ( n = 369, 36.9%). A total of 198 patients (19.8%) developed a recurrent cancer; 79.8% of patients experienced a recurrent cancer within two years following primary treatment. Within the group of T1/T2 tumors the incidence of recurrent tumors was 28.9%, whereas the incidence in the T3/T4 group was 44.6%. Tumor infiltration of the resection margins was detected in 12.9%. In line with the literature, tumor infiltration of the resection margins is a relevant prognostic factor, therefore intraoperative frozen section must be recommended. Treatment with curative intention, in particular extensive surgical resections, is seldom possible, and requires always a very intensive discussion with the patient.