PURPOSE: The objectives of this study are to investigate the significance of apoptotic death compared to total cell death after gamma-ray irradiation in human H&N cancer cell lines and to find out correlation between apoptosis and radiation sensitivity. MATERIALS AND METHOD: Head and neck cancer cell lines (PCI-1, PCI-13, and SNU-1066), leukemia cell line (CCRF-CEM), and fibroblast cell line (LM217) as a normal control were used for this study. Cells were irradiated using Cs-137 animal experiment irradiator. Total cell death was measured by clonogenic assay. Annexin-V staining was used to detect the fraction of apoptotic death. RESULTS: Surviving fraction at 2 Gy (SF2) were 0.741, 0.544, 0.313, 0.302, and 0.100 for PCI-1, PCI-13, SNU-1066, CCRF-CEM, and LM217 cell lines, respectively. Apoptosis was detected in all cell lines. Apoptotic index reached peak value at 72 hours after irradiation in head and neck cancer cell lines, and that was at 24 hours in CCRF-CEM and LM217. Total cell death increased exponentially with increasing radiation dose from 0 Gy to 8 Gy, but the change was minimal in apoptotic index. Apoptotic fractions at 2 Gy were 46%, 48%, 46%, 24%, and 19% and at 6 Gy were 20%, 33%, 35%, 17%, and 20% for PCI- 1, PCI-13, SNU-1066, CCRF-CEM, and LM217, respectively. The radioresistant cell lines showed more higher apoptotic fraction at 2 Gy, but there was not such correlation at 6 Gy. CONCLUSION: All cell lines used in this study showed apoptosis after irradiation, but time course of apoptosis was different from that of leukemia cell line and normal fibroblast cell line. Reproductive cell death was more important mode of cell death than apoptotic death in all cell lines used in this study. But there was correlation between apoptotic fraction and radiation sensitivity at 2 Gy.