In the process of metastasis, cancer cells secrete several enzymes which degrade extracellular matrices (ECMs) and basement membranes (BMs) of blood vessels. One of them, heparanase, has been reported to be an important enzyme when metastatic cancer cells invade blood vessels. The enzyme cleaves heparan sulfate (HS), a main component of ECM and BM. In the present study, HS-degrading ability of several human oral cancer cell lines (HSC2, HSC3, HSC4, Ca9-22, NA, ACC3 and Ab-J) and tissues derived from human oral squamous cell carcinomas (both metastatic and non-metastatic) were investigated by measuring heparanase activities and levels of heparanase mRNA by a quantitative reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction. The catalytic activities and the mRNA levels of heparanase showed a good agreement. Clinical demonstration of cancer metastasis generally correlated with high levels of heparanase activity and its mRNA. The results suggest that heparanase activity and its mRNA level are good diagnostic parameters for evaluating the metastatic properties of human oral cancer cells.