The CDKN2A tumor-suppressor locus on chromosome band 9p21, which encodes p16(INK4A), a negative regulator of cyclin-dependent kinases, and p14(ARF1), an activator of TP53, is inactivated in many human cancers by point mutation, promoter hypermethylation, and, often, deletion. Homozygous deletions are unusually prevalent at this locus in very different human cancers. In the present study, we compared deletions in squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck (SCCHN) cell lines to those in T-cell acute lymphatic leukemia (T-ALL), glioma, and bladder carcinoma (TCC) cell lines. Of 14 SCCHN lines, 10 showed homozygous deletions of CDKN2A, one displayed promoter hypermethylation with gene silencing, and one had a frameshift deletion in exon 2. Many deletion ends were in or proximal to the repetitive sequence clusters flanking the locus. Breakpoint junctions displayed variable microhomologies or insertions characteristic of DNA repair by nonhomologous end-joining. In general, deletions were much smaller in SCCHN than in TCC and glioma. In T-ALL, breakpoints were near consensus sites for recombination mediated by RAG (recombination activating genes) enzymes, and the structure of the junctions was consistent with this mechanism. We suggest that different mechanisms of CDKN2A deletion prevail in different human cancers. Aberrant RAG-mediated recombination may be responsible in T-ALL, and exuberant DNA repair by nonhomologous end-joining is the likely prevailing mechanism in SCCHN, but a distinct mechanism in TCC and glioma remains to be elucidated.