Oropharyngeal cancers develop not in the oral cavity, but in the part of the throat that is just behind the mouth. It’s basically where the oral cavity stops and the mouth begins. The various parts of the body that can be affected by this cancer include the back third of the tongue, the side and back walls of the throat, the tonsils, and the soft palate.
Facts About Oropharyngeal Cancer
1. 90% of the oropharyngeal cancers that are diagnosed are squamous cell carcinomas.
2. Verrucous carcinoma is a type of squamous cell carcinoma that makes up less than 5% of all oropharyngeal cancers.
3. About 39,500 people will get oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancer.
4. 7,500. That’s the number of people who die of oral or oropharyngeal cancers every year.
5. Oropharyngeal cancers are more than twice as common in men as in women.
6. Oropharyngeal cancers are about equally common in blacks and in whites.
7. The death rate for oropharyngeal cancers has been decreasing over the last 30 years.
8. The back third of the tongue is the most common place for this type of cancer to develop.
9. The average age of most people diagnosed with oropharyngeal cancers is 62.
10. 1 in 4 cases of oropharyngeal cancer are diagnosed in patients who are under the age of 55.
11. Tobacco and alcohol use are among the strongest risk factors for oropharyngeal cancers.
12. About 7 out of 10 patients with oral cancer are heavy drinkers.
13. The risk of these cancers in heavy drinkers and smokers may be as much as 100x more than the risk of these cancers in people who don’t smoke or drink.
14. HPV DNA is now found in 2 out of every 3 oropharyngeal cancers that are diagnosed. Oropharyngeal cancers that contain HPV DNA tend to have a better outlook than those without HPV.
15. For cancers of the oropharynx and tonsil, the relative 5-year survival rate is 66%, but survival by stage is not available.
16. Hispanics and Alaska Natives or American Indians are 2x less likely to be diagnosed with oropharyngeal cancers than any other racial demographic.
17. In 2010, it was estimated that approximately $3.2 billion is being spent in the United States each year on treatment of head and neck cancers.
18. Those who have oropharyngeal cancer a first time and go into remission have a 20x higher risk of developing the same cancer a second time.
Different cancer cells can all develop into oropharyngeal cancers. Knowing the statistics about these different types of cancers that can affect this area of the body are important because they have a direct impact on what the prognosis will be. Some growths that are noticed in this area are not cancerous at all. Some may be harmless now, but have the ability to grow into cancer later. These pre-cancerous growths usually have a white or gray patchwork look to them or they might bleed when scraped.
Most oropharyngeal cancers, however, do not develop from a pre-existing lesion.
Have Oropharyngeal Cancers Evolved?
In the past, oropharyngeal cancers were believed to be caused by tobacco or alcohol use only. With a majority of these cancers now having HPV DNA in them, researchers are beginning to take a second look at the problem. Some believe that the increased prevalence of oral sex in the general population is causing the DNA to infuse itself into existing cancerous or pre-cancerous cells. Others believe that HPV could be causing the cancer itself.
As with most forms of cancer, early detection is the key to successfully treating oropharyngeal cancers. Regular dentist appointments can help to detect problematic areas so early biopsies can be ordered. A routine checkup at the doctor’s office is also beneficial, especially once the age of 55 is reached. Everyone must be on guard for this cancer, but 3 out of 4 cases happen in the 55+ age demographic.
The best way to reduce the risks of this cancer developing is to eat a healthy diet, stop smoking if you are, and avoid drinking heavily. There has been a dramatic decrease in the numbers of non-HPV related cancers over the last 30 years because of simple changes in lifestyle habits. Take care of yourself, get checked regularly, go to the doctor if there is a sore or discolored area in the mouth that doesn’t heal in 2 weeks, and you will be able to worry less about oropharyngeal cancer.