The size and shape of the cells in the basal cell layer of the oral epithelium in 100 specimens from oral mucosa were studied by using an interactive image analysis system (IBAS-1). Four groups of white lesions (traumatic keratosis, lichen planus, leucoplakia, and a "risk group") in addition to two control groups (normal mucosa and squamous cell carcinoma) were studied retrospectively. The results showed a progressive increase in the dimensions (area, perimeter, and maximum diameter) of the nuclei from normal mucosa through traumatic keratosis, lichen planus, leucoplakia and the "risk group" to carcinoma, with considerable differences. The nucleus in squamous cell carcinoma was twice as large as in normal mucosa. A substantial increase in the dimensions of both the cell and the nucleus was found in the "risk group." The nucleo:cytoplasmic ratio, contrary to what might have been anticipated in risk lesions, did not show considerable differences between the diagnostic groups. Furthermore, it was slightly decreased in the risk group compared with the normal mucosa. The shape factors (form PE and contour index) seemed to be less helpful in the identification of the "risk group." The size of the basal cell and its nucleus can be of diagnostic value for lesions with a high risk of malignant transformation.