Background Apurinic/apyrimidinic endonuclease 1/redox factor-1 (APE1/Ref-1) is a multifunctional protein involved in DNA repair and redox signaling. The purpose of this study was to investigate the relationship between APE1/Ref-1 expression and clinicopathological features, survival, and treatment response in patients with oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC) and cell lines. Methods APE1/Ref-1 expression in OSCC was evaluated by immunohistochemistry, and its relationship to patient outcomes and treatment response was assessed statistically. The effects of stable short hairpin (sh)RNA-mediated knockdown of APE1/Ref-1 on cell survival, migration, and chemoradiation sensitivity were determined in OSCC cell lines. Results APE1/Ref-1 immunostaining was correlated with positive lymph node status, and higher APE1/Ref-1 expression was significantly associated with poor prognosis and reduced treatment response. Consistent with the clinical studies, APE1/Ref-1 expression in OSCC cell lines was implicated in the regulation of migration and cisplatin-induced apoptosis. Conclusion Elevated APE1/Ref-1 expression may be used to predict poor survival and may confer chemoresistance in OSCC.