Individual bacteria and shifts in the composition of the microbiome have been associated with human diseases including cancer. To investigate changes in the microbiome associated with oral cancers, we profiled cancers and anatomically matched contralateral normal tissue from the same patient by sequencing 16S rDNA hypervariable region amplicons. In cancer samples from both a discovery and a subsequent confirmation cohort, abundance of Firmicutes (especially Streptococcus) and Actinobacteria (especially Rothia) was significantly decreased relative to contralateral normal samples from the same patient. Significant decreases in abundance of these phyla were observed for pre-cancers, but not when comparing samples from contralateral sites (tongue and floor of mouth) from healthy individuals. Weighted UniFrac principal coordinates analysis based on 12 taxa separated most cancers from other samples with greatest separation of node positive cases. These studies begin to develop a framework for exploiting the oral microbiome for monitoring oral cancer development, progression and recurrence.