Oral and Oropharyngeal Cancer: Statistics

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 02/2023

ON THIS PAGE: You will find information about the estimated number of people who will be diagnosed with oral or oropharyngeal cancers each year. You will also read general information on surviving these diseases. Remember, survival rates depend on several factors, and no 2 people with cancer are the same. Use the menu to see other pages.

Every person is different, with different factors influencing their risk of being diagnosed with these cancers and the chance of recovery after a diagnosis. It is important to talk with your doctor about any questions you have around the general statistics provided below and what they may mean for you individually. The original sources for these statistics are provided at the bottom of this page.

How many people are diagnosed with oral and oropharyngeal cancer?

In 2023, an estimated 54,540 adults (39,290 men and 15,250 women) in the United States will be diagnosed with an oral or oropharyngeal cancer. Worldwide, an estimated 476,125 people were diagnosed with an oral or oropharyngeal cancer in 2020.

Rates of these 2 cancers are more than twice as high in men as in women. White people are slightly more likely to be diagnosed with them than Black people. Together, oral and oropharyngeal cancers are the eighth most common cancer among men. The average age of diagnosis is 64. These types of cancer can be diagnosed at any age, with about 20% of cases occur in people younger than 55.

From 2015 to 2019, oral and oropharyngeal cancers increased slightly (under 1%) per year (see Risk Factors and Prevention) in women and stayed steady in men. However, during the same years, oropharynx cancers related to human papillomavirus (HPV) infection rose by 1.3% in women and 2.8% in men. An estimated 50% of all oral cancers were diagnosed in the tongue or tonsils during 2015 to 2019, compared to 25% in the late 1970s.

It is estimated that 11,580 deaths (8,140 men and 3,440 women) from oral and oropharyngeal cancer will occur in the United States in 2023. After dropping for several decades, the death rate for these 2 diseases increased by slightly under half a percent each year from 2009 to 2020. This change was mainly due to a 2% increase in deaths during those years from oropharyngeal cancer related to HPV. In 2020, an estimated 225,900 people worldwide died from oropharyngeal cancer.

What is the survival rate for oral and oropharyngeal cancer?

There are different types of statistics that can help doctors evaluate a person’s chance of recovery from oral or oropharyngeal cancer. These are called survival statistics. A specific type of survival statistic is called the relative survival rate. It is often used to predict how having cancer may affect life expectancy. Relative survival rate looks at how likely people with oral or oropharyngeal cancer are to survive for a certain amount of time after their initial diagnosis or start of treatment compared to the expected survival of similar people without these cancers.

Example: Here is an example to help explain what a relative survival rate means. Please note this is only an example and not specific to this type of cancer. Let’s assume that the 5-year relative survival rate for a specific type of cancer is 90%. “Percent” means how many out of 100. Imagine there are 1,000 people without cancer, and based on their age and other characteristics, you expect 900 of the 1,000 to be alive in 5 years. Also imagine there are another 1,000 people similar in age and other characteristics as the first 1,000, but they all have the specific type of cancer that has a 5-year survival rate of 90%. This means it is expected that 810 of the people with the specific cancer (90% of 900) will be alive in 5 years.

It is important to remember that statistics on the survival rates for people with oral or oropharyngeal cancer are only an estimate. They cannot tell an individual person if cancer will or will not shorten their life. Instead, these statistics describe trends in groups of people previously diagnosed with the same disease, including specific stages of the disease.

The survival rates for oral and oropharyngeal cancer vary based on several factors. These include the stage and grade of cancer, a person’s age and general health, and how well the treatment plan works. Another factor that can affect outcomes is the original location.

The 5-year relative survival rate for oral or oropharyngeal cancer in the United States is 68%. The 5-year relative survival rate for Black people is 52%. For White people, it is 70%. Research shows that survival rates are higher in people who have HPV-associated cancer, which is more frequently diagnosed in White people (see Risk Factors and Prevention). However, a survival disparity still exists.

If the cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, the 5-year relative survival rate for all people is 86%. About 28% of oral and oropharyngeal cancers are diagnosed at this stage. If the cancer has spread to surrounding tissues or organs and/or the regional lymph nodes, the 5-year relative survival rate is 69%. An estimated half of cases are diagnosed at this stage. If the cancer has spread to a distant part of the body, the 5-year relative survival rate is 40%. About 17% of oral and oropharyngeal cancers are diagnosed at this stage.

Experts measure relative survival rate statistics for oral and oropharyngeal cancer every 5 years. This means the estimate may not reflect the results of advancements in how oral and oropharyngeal cancer is diagnosed or treated from the last 5 years. Talk with your doctor if you have any questions about this information. Learn more about understanding statistics.

Statistics adapted from the American Cancer Society's (ACS) publication, Cancer Facts & Figures 2023, the ACS website, the International Agency for Research on Cancer website, and the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program. (All sources accessed March 2023.)

The next section in this guide is Medical Illustrations. It offers drawings of body parts often affected by oral and oropharyngeal cancers. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.