Author: Hannah Slater
A study released in Cancer indicates that there is an increasing incidence of late stage head and neck cancer (HNC) in the U.S., mostly due to an increasing incidence of oropharyngeal cancer, most likely due to HPV-related disease in patients diagnosed at stage IVC.1
Blacks, males, those who are underinsured or uninsured, and those who are unmarried tend to fare worse than others. The presented research highlights the need for continuous public health efforts toward the early detection of HNC.
In this cohort of 57,118 patients with stage IV HNC, the age-adjusted rates for stage IV HNC significantly increased by 26.1% (6.11 per 100,000 person-years in 2004 to 7.70 per 100,000 person-years in 2015). Despite a decreasing overall incidence of stage IV HNC in black patients (adjusted OR, 1.28; 95% CI, 1.22-1.34), they along with males (adjusted OR, 3.95; 95% CI, 3.80-4.11) had significantly increased risks of being diagnosed with late-stage HNC.
“In the absence of a mortality benefit for asymptomatic mass screenings, as per the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force oral cancer screening guideline, it is critical that there is sustained public awareness and education regarding the early detection of HNC, and prevention through cancer risk mitigation practices,” the researchers wrote.
Although black males had the highest risk of being diagnosed, the most significant change in annual incidence patterns was driven by white males (annual percent changes, 3.13; P < .01). A significant increase in incidence occurred in the population >50 years, with males tending to be younger at the time of diagnosis than females.
Of all primary tumor sites, the oropharynx was the most likely site for a late-stage diagnosis. The incidence of oropharyngeal cancer has increased dramatically in the U.S. within the last 40 years and is predominantly experienced by white males. Approximately 75% of cases of oropharyngeal cancer are associated with human papillomavirus (HPV), and these tumors often present with small primary tumors and larger cystic regional lymph node metastases as the first notable symptom.
Although patients with oropharyngeal cancer typically have a better prognosis, they also remain at risk of having positive lymph nodes and developing distant metastasis. Research indicated that the oropharynx, an HPV-related site, was the only site to experience a significant increase in the incidence of metastatic stage IV disease.
“If rates of true late-stage HNC continue to rise, it remains paramount to identify those patients who are at risk of potentially worse prognoses when HPV status is unknown,” the researchers wrote.
Stage IV was defined using the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) sixth edition stage classification as stages IVA, IVB, IVC, and IV not otherwise specified. With recent changes in AJCC staging, future studies are warranted to describe incidence trends based on new staging guidelines.
According to the CDC, HPV is so common that nearly all sexually active men and women get the virus at some point in their lives. Oropharyngeal cancers have traditionally been caused by tobacco and alcohol; however recent studies have suggested that about 70% of cancers of the oropharynx may be linked to HPV.2
1. Thompson-Harvey A, Yetukuri M, Hansen AR, et al. Rising Incidence of Late-Stage Head and Neck Cancer in the United States. Cancer. doi:10.1002/cncr.32583.
2. CDC. Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Statistics. CDC website. cdc.gov/std/hpv/stats.htm. Published January 4, 2017. Accessed November 21, 2019.