Oropharyngeal carcinoma in young adults: an alarming national trend

Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2014 Apr;150(4):594-601. doi: 10.1177/0194599813519738. Epub 2014 Jan 22.


Objectives: To assess the incidence, treatment methods, and outcomes of oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma (OPSCC) in patients younger than 45 years.

Study design: Retrospective population based.

Setting: Surveillance Epidemiology End Results (SEER) 9 database.

Subjects and methods: The SEER 9 database was queried from 1973 to 2009 for OPSCC patients <45 years of age.

Results: There were 1603 patients with OPSCC younger than 45 years. The incidence in patients between 36 and 44 years increased from 0.79 to 1.39 (per 100,000). In the same time period, there was an increase in the rate from 0.20 to 0.42 in whites and a decrease in the rate in African American (AA) patients from 0.67 to 0.32. The proportion of grade III/IV tumors also steadily increased from 28% in 1973 to 1979 to 43% in 2000 to 2009 (P < .0001). Surgery alone was performed in 220 patients (13.72%) and in combination with radiation therapy in 734 patients (45.79%). Five-year survival for the study cohort is 54%. Compared with white patients, AA patients had worse survival (P < .0001). Patients who had surgery, either alone (localized stage patients) or in combination with radiation, had the highest 5-year survival followed by those who had radiation.

Conclusions: There was an increase in OPSCC in the study patients within the past 4 decades, particularly in those aged 36 to 44 years. Interestingly, the incidence in whites increased and in AA patients it decreased. It is important to note that most of these patients were treated with surgery, either alone or with radiation therapy. The rising incidence within recent decades is thought to be related to human papillomavirus transmission and changes in sexual practices.

Keywords: SEER database; oropharyngeal cancer; young adults.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / diagnosis
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / epidemiology*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / surgery*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Databases, Factual
  • Disease-Free Survival
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Kaplan-Meier Estimate
  • Laryngectomy / methods
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neck Dissection
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness / pathology
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Oropharyngeal Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Oropharyngeal Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Oropharyngeal Neoplasms / surgery*
  • Prognosis
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Assessment
  • SEER Program
  • Sex Distribution
  • Survival Analysis
  • Tonsillectomy / methods
  • Young Adult