A group of 179 patients who had 205 neck dissections between 1979 and 1984 has been reviewed to assess the influence of adjuvant radiotherapy on survival. Lymph nodes were histologically involved in 91 of 107 radical neck dissections (85 percent) and 55 of 98 modified neck dissections (56 percent). Eighty-two patients received adjuvant radiotherapy of 5,000 rads or more. Patients with involved nodes had significantly lower survival rates than those with uninvolved nodes. Among patients with involved nodes, survival was significantly lower when two or more nodes were involved, when there was nodal involvement at multiple levels, or when extracapsular spread was present. Adjuvant radiotherapy was associated with a reduced recurrence rate in the ipsilateral neck but the incidence of distant metastases was higher. When patients with involved nodes were subgrouped according to prognostic factors, the survival of irradiated patients was improved only in the highest risk group, but this was not statistically significant. When radiotherapy is added to neck dissection for treatment of cervical metastases it can be expected to reduced ipsilateral neck recurrence and prevent relapse in the contralateral neck. Improved survival may depend on an ability to detect and treat occult distant metastases. © 1986.