BACKGROUND: Circular RNAs are a class of endogenous RNAs with various functions in eukaryotic cells. Worthy of note, circular RNAs play a critical role in cancer. Currently, nothing is known about their role in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC). The identification of circular RNAs in HNSCC might become useful for diagnostic and therapeutic strategies in HNSCC. RESULTS: Using samples from 115 HNSCC patients, we find that circPVT1 is over-expressed in tumors compared to matched non-tumoral tissues, with particular enrichment in patients with TP53 mutations. circPVT1 up- and down-regulation determine, respectively, an increase and a reduction of the malignant phenotype in HNSCC cell lines. We show that circPVT1 expression is transcriptionally enhanced by the mut-p53/YAP/TEAD complex. circPVT1 acts as an oncogene modulating the expression of miR-497-5p and genes involved in the control of cell proliferation. CONCLUSIONS: This study shows the oncogenic role of circPVT1 in HNSCC, extending current knowledge about the role of circular RNAs in cancer.