Strong vascular endothelial growth factor-C (VEGF-C) expression has been correlated to occurrence of lymph-node metastases in patients with oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC). The incidence of occult lymph-node metastasis remains a decisive factor in the prognosis of patients with early OSCC. The aim of this study was to evaluate VEGF-C expression as a predictor of occult lymph-node metastasis in OSCC. Eighty-seven patients with primary OSCC arising in the tongue or floor of mouth, clinically T1N0M0 or T2N0M0, with (pN+) and without (pN0) occult lymph-node metastases were analyzed for VEGF-C expression by malignant cells. Occult lymph-node metastases (pN+) were detected in 22% of the 64 patients who were submitted to elective neck dissection. No statistically significant difference was found between OSCC with and without occult lymph-node metastasis in regard to VEGF-C immunoexpression by malignant cells and clinicopathologic features. Independently of VEGF-C expression, lymph-node metastasis (pN+) was the most significant prognostic factor for overall survival of patients with OSCC (p=0.030). These findings indicate that isolated VEGF-C expression by malignant cells is not of predictive value for occult lymph-node metastasis in the early stages of OSCC.