The taxanes are the most active new agents for squamous-cell carcinoma of the head and neck (SCCHN) since the discovery of cisplatin. Our aim was to define the therapeutic efficacy and toxicity of paclitaxel and cisplatin combination therapy in patients with recurrent SCCHN. Patients with locally recurrent or metastatic SCCHN were enrolled in the study. Patients were required to be chemotherapy-naive, and should have completed radiation therapy at least 6 weeks prior to enrollment. A World Health Organization (WHO) performance status of less than 3 was required. Paclitaxel (Taxol((R)), Bristol Myers Squibb Company, Princeton, NJ) and cisplatin therapy (PC) consisted of prophylaxis with pheniramine 50 mg i.v., ranitidine 150 mg i.v. and dexamethasone 20 mg i.v. given prior to paclitaxel 175 mg/m(2) as a 3-hour i.v. infusion, followed by cisplatin 75 mg/m(2) as a 1-hour infusion with an additional 3000 cc of saline for hydration. This treatment was repeated every 3 weeks for a maximum of six cycles. Patients were evaluated for response after the third and sixth cycles, or at the time of clinical progression. Fifty patients were enrolled in the study. The overall response rate was 32% with a 10% complete response rate. Forty-eight patients were assessable for toxicity. A total of 221 cycles of chemotherapy was given and the most common toxicity was myelosuppression; 7.7% of cycles had grade III-IV neutropenia. Severe neuropathy, nephropathy, mucositis, and emesis were uncommon (<10%). At a median follow-up period of 25 months, the median overall survival was 10 months and the 1-year progression-free and overall survival rates were 16.7% and 35.2%, respectively.