We reviewed 156 previously untreated patients with squamous cell carcinoma of the oral tongue staged T1 and T2 to determine the incidence of nodal metastasis, and if elective neck dissection affected local/regional control or survival. Patients were divided into two nonrandomized groups: group 1, intraoral glossectomy only (102 patients); and group 2, intraoral glossectomy plus neck dissection (54 patients). Analysis revealed no significant differences for tumor location, histologic differentiation, status of margins, or clinical appearance; however, perineural invasion significantly adversely affected survival and local/regional control. In group 1 patients, 16.5% subsequently developed cervical metastasis, and 20.4% of patients in group 2 had occult nodal disease. The survival and local/regional control for group 1 patients subsequently developing nodes was 33% and 50%, respectively. The survival and local/regional control for group 2 patients with occult metastasis was 55% and 91%, respectively. We believe elective neck dissection is indicated for early staged oral tongue cancer.