Background. African Amercians afflicted with head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) have a strikingly worse survival than do whites. One apparent cause is an advanced stage of presentation in African Americans. This study was designed to identify barriers to early treatment among African American men. Methods. Twenty-four African American male HNSCC survivors completed structured interviews. Interviewers elicited the participants' experiences from symptom recognition to receiving definitive care. Results. Most participants were seen with advanced-stage HNSCC. Overall, 10% experienced barriers to obtaining early medical care, though 30% were hesitant to seek care due to perceived barriers. Definitive treatment began for 81% within 3 months of initial care seeking. Conclusion. Once participants sought care, most of them received definitive treatment within a reasonable time frame. To explain the advanced stage at presentation, either tumor growth rate was extremely rapid or participants sought care when the tumor was quite advanced. The themes suggested by this elicitation study require further validation. © 2009 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.