Radioimmunotherapy (RIT) seems to be a realistic option for eradication of minimal residual squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck (HNSCC), although uptake levels of radiolabelled monoclonal antibodies (MAbs) in tumour tissue vary strongly. The aim of this study was to obtain greater insight into the factors influencing the accumulation of MAbs in HNSCC. Twenty-seven HNSCC patients were injected with radiolabelled MAb E48 or U36 and underwent surgery 2 days after injection. Radioactivity was measured in tumour biopsies taken from the surgical specimen. Uptake levels were correlated with various patient, tumour and MAb characteristics, including age, sex, site, TNM stage, volume as assesssed by computed tomography or magnetic resonance imaging, degree of differentiation, antigen expression of the tumour, the particular MAb that had been injected and the MAb dose. A stepwise regression multivariate analysis showed that tumour volume is the most significant prognostic factor (P = 0.01) for MAb uptake. In conclusion, a significantly higher MAb uptake is found in small tumours as compared to larger tumours. Therefore, RIT may be particularly effective in head and neck cancer patients when used in an adjuvant setting.