Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma tumors (HNSCC) contain a dense fibrous stroma which is known to promote tumor growth, although the mechanism of stroma-mediated growth remains unclear. As dysplastic mucosal epithelium progresses to cancer, there is incremental overexpression of extracellular matrix metalloprotease inducer (EMMPRIN) which is associated with tumor growth and metastasis. Here, we present evidence that gain of EMMPRIN expression allows tumor growth to be less dependent on fibroblasts by modulating fibroblast growth factor receptor-2 (FGFR2) signaling. We show that silencing EMMPRIN in FaDu and SCC-5 HNSCC cell lines inhibits cell growth, but when EMMPRIN-silenced tumor cells were cocultured with fibroblasts or inoculated with fibroblasts into severe combined immunodeficient mice, the growth inhibition by silencing EMMPRIN was blunted by the presence of fibroblasts. Coculture experiments showed fibroblast-dependent tumor cell growth occurred via a paracrine signaling. Analysis of tumor gene expression revealed expression of FGFR2 was inversely related to EMMPRIN expression. To determine the role of FGFR2 signaling in EMMPRIN-silenced tumor cells, ligands and inhibitors of FGFR2 were assessed. Both FGF1 and FGF2 enhanced tumor growth in EMMPRIN-silenced cells compared with Control vector-transfected cells, whereas inhibition of FGFR2 with blocking antibody or with a synthetic inhibitor (PD173074) inhibited tumor cell growth in fibroblast coculture, suggesting the importance of FGFR2 signaling in fibroblast-mediated tumor growth. Analysis of xenografted tumors revealed that EMMPRIN-silenced tumors had a larger stromal compartment compared with control. Taken together, these results suggest that EMMPRIN acquired during tumor progression promotes fibroblast-independent tumor growth. ©2011 AACR.