Selective neck dissection (I-III) for oral cancers offers similar regional control rates with less morbidity as compared with modified radical neck dissection. Charts of 414 patients with oral cancer, who underwent selective neck dissection (I-III) during 1994-2001, were analysed retrospectively. Seventy nine percent of the patients had a primary tumour in the gingivo-buccal complex. Cancer of tongue showed a trend towards higher regional failure (12.3%) as compared to gingivo-buccal cancers (6.5%). Primary tumour was staged as T1-8%, T2-47%, T3-19% and T4-26%. Sixty five percent of the patients were clinically node negative. Isolated neck failure was observed in 4.8% of patients at 2 years and in 5.8% at 5 years. De-differentiation of primary tumour and perineural spread were associated with regional failures. Eighty three percent of the neck recurrences were in the ipsilateral neck and only 16% of these were at levels IV or V. In all, 30% of all regional failures were outside the field of dissection.