Invadopodia are branched actin-rich structures associated with extracellular matrix (ECM) degradation that collectively form the invasive machinery of aggressive cancer cells. Cortactin is a prominent component and a specific marker of invadopodia. Amplification of cortactin is associated with poor prognosis in head and neck squamous cell carcinomas (HNSCC), possibly because of its activity in invadopodia. Although the role of cortactin in invadopodia has been attributed to signaling and actin assembly, it is incompletely understood. We made HNSCC cells deficient in cortactin by RNA interference knockdown methods. In these cortactin knockdown cells, invadopodia were reduced in number and lost their ability to degrade ECM. In the reverse experiment, overexpression of cortactin dramatically increased ECM degradation, far above and beyond the effect on formation of actin/Arp3-positive invadopodia puncta. Secretion of matrix metalloproteinases (MMP) MMP-2 and MMP-9, as well as plasma membrane delivery of MT1-MMP correlated closely with cortactin expression levels. MMP inhibitor treatment of control cells mimicked the cortactin knockdown phenotype, with abolished ECM degradation and fewer invadopodia, suggesting a positive feedback loop in which degradation products from MMP activity promote new invadopodia formation. Collectively, these data suggest that a major role of cortactin in invadopodia is to regulate the secretion of MMPs and point to a novel mechanism coupling dynamic actin assembly to the secretory machinery, producing enhanced ECM degradation and invasiveness. Furthermore, these data provide a possible explanation for the observed association between cortactin overexpression and enhanced invasiveness and poor prognosis in HNSCC patients.