Oral Cavity and Oropharyngeal Cancer

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What Is Oral Cavity and Oropharyngeal Cancer? TOPICS

What are the key statistics about oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers?

The American Cancer Society’s most recent estimates for oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers in the United States are for 2014:

  • About 37,000 people will get oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancer.
  • An estimated 7,300 people will die of these cancers.

These cancers are more than twice as common in men as in women. They are about equally common in blacks and in whites.

In recent years, the overall rate of new cases of this disease has been stable in men and dropping slightly in women. However, there has been a recent rise in cases of oropharyngeal cancer linked to infection with human papilloma virus (HPV) in white men and women.

The death rate for these cancers has been decreasing over the last 30 years.

Oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers occur most often in the following sites:

  • The tongue
  • The tonsils and oropharynx
  • The gums, floor of the mouth, and other parts of the mouth

The rest are found in the lips, the minor salivary glands (which often occur in the roof of the mouth), and other sites.

The average age of most people diagnosed with these cancers is 62, but they can occur in young people. They are rare in children, but a little more than one-quarter occur in patients younger than 55.

The rates of these cancers vary among countries. For example, they are much more common in Hungary and France than in the United States and much less common in Mexico and Japan.

When patients newly diagnosed with oral and oropharyngeal cancers are carefully examined, a small portion will have another cancer in a nearby area such as the larynx (voice box), the esophagus (the tube that carries food from the throat to the stomach), or the lung. Some who are cured of oral or oropharyngeal cancer will develop another cancer later in the lung, mouth, throat, or other nearby areas. For this reason, patients with oral and oropharyngeal cancer will need to have follow-up exams for the rest of their lives. They also need to avoid using tobacco and alcohol, which increase the risk for these second cancers.

For statistics related to survival, see the section “Survival rates for oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer by stage.”


Last Medical Review: 07/16/2014
Last Revised: 08/05/2014