Survival Rates for Oral Cavity and Oropharyngeal Cancer

Survival rates can give you an idea of what percentage of people with the same type and stage of cancer are still alive a certain amount of time (usually 5 years) after they were diagnosed. They can’t tell you how long you will live, but they may help give you a better understanding of how likely it is that your treatment will be successful.

Keep in mind that survival rates are estimates and are often based on previous outcomes of large numbers of people who had a specific cancer, but they can’t predict what will happen in any particular person’s case. These statistics can be confusing and may lead you to have more questions. Your doctor is familiar with your situation; ask how these numbers may apply to you.

What is a 5-year relative survival rate?

A relative survival rate compares people with the same type and stage of cancer to people in the overall population. For example, if the 5-year relative survival rate for a specific stage of cancer is 90%, it means that people who have that cancer are, on average, about 90% as likely as people who don’t have that cancer to live for at least 5 years after being diagnosed.

Where do these numbers come from?

The American Cancer Society relies on information from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) database, maintained by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), to provide survival statistics for different types of cancer.

The SEER database tracks 5-year relative survival rates for oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers in the United States, based on how far the cancer has spread. The SEER database, however, does not group cancers by AJCC TNM stages (stage 1, stage 2, stage 3, etc.). Instead, it groups cancers into localized, regional, and distant stages:

  • Localized: There is no sign the cancer has spread outside the organ where it started (for example, the lip, tongue, or floor of mouth).
  • Regional: The cancer has spread to nearby structures or lymph nodes.
  • Distant: The cancer has spread to distant parts of the body such as the lungs.

5-year relative survival rates for oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers

These numbers are based on people diagnosed with oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancer between 2011 and 2017.

Lip

SEER Stage

5-Year Relative Survival Rate

Localized

93%

Regional

65%

Distant

33%

All SEER stages combined 91%

Tongue

SEER Stage

5-Year Relative Survival Rate

Localized

83%

Regional

69%

Distant

41%

All SEER stages combined 68%

Floor of the mouth

SEER Stage

5-Year Relative Survival Rate

Localized

73%

Regional

41%

Distant

23%

All SEER stages combined 52%

Oropharynx

SEER Stage

5-year Relative Survival Rate

Localized

59%

Regional

59%

Distant

28%

All SEER stages combined

50%

Understanding the numbers

  • These numbers apply only to the stage of the cancer when it is first diagnosed. They do not apply later on if the cancer grows, spreads, or comes back after treatment.
  • These numbers don’t take everything into account. Survival rates are grouped based on how far the cancer has spread, but your age, overall health, how well the cancer responds to treatment, and other factors will also affect your outlook. Currently, these survival rates are not based on the p16 (HPV) status of the cancer.
  • People now being diagnosed with oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancer may have a better outlook than these numbers show. Treatments improve over time, and these numbers are based on people who were diagnosed and treated at least five years earlier.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

SEER*Explorer: An interactive website for SEER cancer statistics [Internet]. Surveillance Research Program, National Cancer Institute. [Cited 2021 September 27]. Available from https://seer.cancer.gov/explorer/.

Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program (www.seer.cancer.gov) SEER*Stat Database: Incidence - SEER Research Data, 18 Registries (2000-2018), National Cancer Institute, DCCPS, Surveillance Research Program, released April 2021, based on the November 2020 submission.

References

SEER*Explorer: An interactive website for SEER cancer statistics [Internet]. Surveillance Research Program, National Cancer Institute. [Cited 2021 September 27]. Available from https://seer.cancer.gov/explorer/.

Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program (www.seer.cancer.gov) SEER*Stat Database: Incidence - SEER Research Data, 18 Registries (2000-2018), National Cancer Institute, DCCPS, Surveillance Research Program, released April 2021, based on the November 2020 submission.

Last Revised: March 2, 2022

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