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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. Ask your doctor, who is familiar with your situation, how these numbers might 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 cancers of the oral cavity (mouth) or oropharynx (the part of the throat behind the mouth) between 2012 and 2018.

Lip

SEER Stage

5-Year Relative Survival Rate

Localized

94%

Regional

63%

Distant

38%

All SEER stages combined 91%

Tongue

SEER Stage

5-Year Relative Survival Rate

Localized

84%

Regional

70%

Distant

41%

All SEER stages combined 69%

Floor of the mouth

SEER Stage

5-Year Relative Survival Rate

Localized

73%

Regional

42%

Distant

23%

All SEER stages combined 53%

Oropharynx

SEER Stage

5-year Relative Survival Rate

Localized

59%*

Regional

62%*

Distant

29%

All SEER stages combined

52%

*The 5-year relative survival for these cancers at the regional stage is slightly better than for the localized stage. The reason for this is not clear, although it's important to know that these rates are based on small numbers of cases.

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 and 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, which could also affect your outlook.
  • 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 5 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 editors and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2023. Atlanta, Ga: American Cancer Society; 2023.

SEER*Explorer: An interactive website for SEER cancer statistics [Internet]. Surveillance Research Program, National Cancer Institute. Accessed at https://seer.cancer.gov/explorer/ on February 23, 2023.

Last Revised: March 1, 2023

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