A total of 54 patients with stage I and stage II squamous cell carcinoma of the oral cavity were reviewed as to treatment modality, adequacy of treatment, and site of failure. Surgery was employed as the sole initial treatment modality in 52 patients. Forty-three underwent primary tumor excision alone and 9 underwent elective neck dissection at the time of primary tumor excision. The patients who underwent elective neck dissection at the time of excision of the primary tumor had a 3 year survival rate of 88 percent, in comparison to a survival rate of 77 percent in those patients whose initial therapy was directed solely at the primary tumor. A low incidence of local recurrence (2 percent) and a high incidence of neck recurrence (42 percent) were documented in those patients treated by primary tumor excision alone. Patients who underwent salvage neck dissection for recurrent neck node metastases had a 3 year survival rate of 56 percent. This study has documented a high incidence of cervical node recurrence in patients with T1 and T2 squamous cell carcinomas of the oral cavity treated by primary tumor excision alone and a poor survival rate after salvage therapy. A small group of patients who underwent elective neck dissection had a demonstrably high survival rate. These observations lend support to the call for elective neck dissection in patients with stage I and II oral cavity carcinoma but are not conclusive. Therapeutic decisions regarding elective treatment of the neck will continue to be made according to the best judgment and prejudices of the individual surgeon until a prospective, randomized multi-institutional study addressing this specific issue is undertaken.