Background. Numerous studies have recently been conducted to investigate genetic mechanisms in cancer causes and pathogenesis. Some of these studies have shown that there were certain specific chromosomal defects in normal cells of cancer patients and in their first-degree relatives. It was suggested that these individuals were susceptible to cancer development when compared with people without these defects. Materials and Methods. Chromosomal anomalies, such as gaps, breaks, and acentric fragments, and fragile site expression rates were determined in peripheral blood lymphocyte cultures in 14 head and neck cancer patients, 17 first-degree relatives of these patients, and 20 healthy individuals as a control group in this study. RPMI 1640 medium, composed of aphidicolin, 5-bromodeoxyuridine, and caffeine were used for the induction of fragile sites. Results. In cytogenetic and statistical evaluation, it was observed that both chromosomal aberration rates and fragile site expression frequencies in head and neck cancer patients and in their first-degree relatives were significantly greater than the control group (p < .05). It was found that fragile site expression was site specific in head and neck cancer patients and in their first-degree relatives. These specific sites were determined to be 1p21-22, 1q21, 1q25, 2q21, 2q31-33, 3p14, 16q22-23, 18q21, and 22q12 sites. Conclusions. These findings support studies showing that the fragile sites might be unstable factors in human genomes and their expression could be affected by some genetic factors, such as tumor suppressor genes and mismatch repair genes, and by some environmental factors, such as benzo (a) pyrene, dimethylnitrosamine, and dimethylsulfate. In conclusion, fragile sites may be playing an important role in the genetic tendency to head and neck cancer. Overexpression of these sites in normal lymphocytes may be used as a reliable marker to determine the genetic susceptibility in head and neck cancer patients and in their first-degree relatives. (C) 2000 John Wiley and Sons, Inc.