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. Talk with your doctor about how these numbers may apply to you, as he or she is familiar with your situation.

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 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.
  • 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 cancer

(Based on people diagnosed with oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancer between 2008 and 2014.)

Lip

SEER Stage

5-Year Relative Survival Rate

Local

92%

Regional

61%

Distant

24%

All SEER stages combined 88%

Tongue

SEER Stage

5-Year Relative Survival Rate

Local

81%

Regional

67%

Distant

39%

All SEER stages combined 66%

Floor of the mouth

SEER Stage

5-Year Relative Survival Rate

Local

78%

Regional

39%

Distant

19%

All SEER stages combined 53%

Other cancers

For cancers of the oropharynx and tonsil, the relative 5-year survival rate was 69%, but survival by stage is not available.

For cancers of the gums and other parts of the mouth, the relative survival was 59%, but survival by stage is not available.

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 if the cancer is p16 positive or negative.
  • 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.

*SEER= Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results

 

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.

Noone AM, Howlader N, Krapcho M, Miller D, Brest A, Yu M, Ruhl J, Tatalovich Z, Mariotto A, Lewis DR, Chen HS, Feuer EJ, Cronin KA (eds). SEER Cancer Statistics Review, 1975-2015, National Cancer Institute. Bethesda, MD, https://seer.cancer.gov/csr/1975_2015/, based on November 2017 SEER data submission, posted to the SEER web site, April 2018.

Last Medical Review: March 9, 2018 Last Revised: February 6, 2019

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