Background: Screening people who are at high risk of developing oral cancers is a promising tool for decreasing morbidity and mortality attributable to this cancer. Methods: A consortium led by the New York University College of Dentistry conducted a three-day oral cancer screening during June 1999. As part of the screening intake, the authors conducted a survey to assess the sociodemographic characteristics, level of knowledge of risk factors and predictors of oral cancer awareness among the subjects. The authors performed bivariate and multivariate analyses using two indicators of oral cancer awareness as dependent variables. Results: The 803 subjects were racially and ethnically diverse, 66 percent were 40 years of age or older, 43 percent had a history of smoking, and 9 percent were likely to have had a history of alcohol abuse. Race/ethnicity, education level and knowledge of risk factors for oral cancer were predictors of awareness of an oral cancer examination, whereas only knowledge and possible history of alcohol abuse were predictors of having a history of examinations. Conclusions: This screening program attracted a diverse sample of people at high risk of developing oral cancer due to smoking and likely history of alcohol abuse. Consistent with other national and international studies, the authors found a lack of knowledge of the risk factors associated with oral cancer and a low rate of histories of oral cancer examinations among the subjects.