Squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck at the Massachusetts General Hospital: a comparison of biologic characteristics in men and women

Surgery. 1986 Jan;99(1):7-14.


Little is known about the biologic behavior of squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck in women. A few recent reports for selected sites have suggested that these tumors may be becoming more common in women. To evaluate potential differences between males and females with squamous cell carcinoma of the oral cavity, oropharynx, and hypopharynx and to assess whether the proportion of females with this disease is increasing, the authors have undertaken a retrospective review of 542 consecutive patients treated at our institution from 1962 through 1976. We report here the first detailed comparison of males and females with squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck, with attention directed to stage at initial presentation, choice of therapy, response to therapy, age distribution, survival, and prevalence of second primary malignancies. It has been widely published that survival for women with squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck is superior to that for men, and this has been attributed to a difference in the biologic characteristics of the disease between the two sexes. Although overall survival calculations in our series suggested a significantly better survival rate for women than for men, these rates were strongly influenced by the larger proportion of women (64%) who had stage I or II disease, compared with only 50% of men. When survival was compared stage by stage, there was no significant difference in survival between the two sexes. The proportion of females in the combined study population was 35%, increasing from 33% in the first 5 years of the study period to 40% in the last 5 years. Among patients born before 1920, 34% were female compared with 43% of patients born after 1920. Of the 13 patients less than 40 years of age at diagnosis, 62% were female. The rising proportion of women during the 15-year study period, particularly among young patients and those in more recent birth cohorts, strongly suggests that squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck is increasing among women in this referral population. A review of the literature indicates that this trend began more than 40 years ago.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Boston
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / epidemiology*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / mortality
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / therapy
  • Female
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / mortality
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / therapy
  • Hospitals, General
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sex Factors