Oropharyngeal Squamous Cell Carcinoma: A Rising Risk in White Men

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Of nearly 100,000 cases in the evaluated timeframe, 31% were OPSCCs and 69% were non-OP HNSCCs.
Of nearly 100,000 cases in the evaluated timeframe, 31% were OPSCCs and 69% were non-OP HNSCCs.

While head and neck squamous cell carcinoma rates (HNSCC) have decreased over the past 2 decades, oropharyngeal SCC (OPSCC) rates have increased meaningfully, particularly among white men, according to research published in Cancer.1

Previously, HNSCCs were more common in the African American population, though recent data suggest that these diseases — and in particular OPSCCs — are becoming more common in the white population.

For this Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) database analysis, researchers evaluated gender, age, and ethnicity trends in patients diagnosed with HNSCC between 1992 and 2014. Data were stratified by whether patients were diagnosed with OPSCC or non-OP HNSCC.

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Of nearly 100,000 cases in the evaluated timeframe, 30,792 (31%) were OPSCCs and 68,064 (69%) were non-OP HNSCCs. Most (87%) patients were 50 years or older, men (73.1%), and white (73.4%). The average annual percent change (aAPC) of HNSCC cases declined over the entire study period (-0.8; P < .001).

Cases of OPSCC, however, became more common between 2000 and 2014, from 5964 (2000-2004) to 9291 (2010-2014), an increase of 56%. Yet among women, OPSCC risk dropped over the evaluated timeframe (aAPC, -.08; P = .002).

Non-OP HNSCC cases also became much less common in African American women (aAPC, -2.6; P < .001) and men (aAPC, -3.0; P < .001).

The authors noted that a “rapid decline in the incidence of HNSCC occurred from 1992 to 2003. However, beginning around 2003, the incidence of HNSCC overall began to increase modestly, driven by larger increases in OPSCC noted among men.”


  1. Fakhry C, Krapcho M, Eisele DW, D'Souza G. Head and neck squamous cell cancers in the United States are rare and the risk now is higher among white individuals compared with black individuals. Cancer. 2018 Mar 13. doi: 10.1002/cncr.31322 [Epub ahead of print]

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