HealthDay News — Oropharyngeal cancer incidence is rising rapidly in patients younger than 45 years, according to researchers at the annual meeting of the American Society for Therapeutic Radiation Oncology.

Farzan Siddiqui, MD, PhD, from Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, and colleagues used the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) database to identify more than 1,600 adults younger than age 45 years of age, who had been diagnosed with invasive squamous cell oropharyngeal cancer between 1973 and 2009. The majority of patients were white (73%).

During the 36-year period, overall, there was a 60% increase in cancers of the base of tongue, tonsils, soft palate and pharynx in people younger than 45 years. The rate of increase was 113% in whites, whereas among blacks, these cancers declined by 52%. The majority of patients (50% to 65%) underwent surgical resection for their tumors.

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For the whole cohort, the five-year survival was 54% and was highest in patients who had both surgery and radiation therapy. Survival did not differ by gender; however, black patients had significantly poorer survival compared with other races.

“Not only were we surprised to find a substantial increase in young adults with cancer of the tonsils and base of tongue, but also a wide deviation among Caucasians and African-Americans with this cancer,” Siddiqui said in a statement.

The American Cancer Society estimates about 36,000 people in the United States will get oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers in 2013, and an estimated 6,850 will die of these cancers. Oropharyngeal cancers are more than twice as common in men as in women, and about equally common in African Americans and Caucasians.

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