Head and neck squamous cell carcinomas (HNSCC) and local relapses thereof develop in preneoplastic fields in the mucosal linings of the upper aerodigestive tract. These fields are characterized by tumor-associated genetic changes, are frequently dysplastic and occasionally macroscopically visible. Currently, no adequate treatment options exist to prevent tumor development. Array-based screening with a panel of tumor-lethal small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) identified Polo-like kinase 1 (PLK1) as essential for survival of preneoplastic cells. Inhibition of PLK1 caused cell death of preneoplastic and HNSCC cells, while primary cells were hardly affected. Both siRNAs and small molecule inhibitors caused a strong G2/M cell cycle arrest accompanied by formation of monopolar spindles. In a xenografted mouse model PLK1 caused a significant tumor growth delay and cures, while chemoradiation had no effect. Thus, PLK1 seems to be a promising target for chemopreventive treatment of preneoplastic cells, and could be applied to prevent HNSCC and local relapses.