Survival statistics for oropharyngeal cancer

Survival statistics for oropharyngeal cancer are very general estimates and must be interpreted very carefully. Because these statistics are based on the experience of groups of people, they cannot be used to predict a particular person’s chances of survival.

There are many different ways to measure and report cancer survival statistics. Your doctor can explain the statistics for oropharyngeal cancer and what they mean to you.

Net survival

Net survival represents the probability of surviving cancer in the absence of other causes of death. It is used to give an estimate of the percentage of people who will survive their cancer.

A net survival statistic for oropharyngeal cancer not reported separately but is included in the general category head and neck cancer. This broad category includes oropharyngeal cancer and similar cancers together. So the number does not necessarily show the net survival specifically for oropharyngeal cancer.

In Canada, the 5-year net survival for head and neck cancer is 64%. This means about 64% of people diagnosed with head and neck cancer will survive for at least 5 years.

Survival by stage

Survival varies with each stage of oropharyngeal cancer. Generally, the earlier oropharyngeal cancer is diagnosed and treated, the better the outcome. But often oropharyngeal cancer is not found until it is at an advanced stage, which can make it harder to treat.

Whether or not the cancer is related to HPV can also affect survival rates for oropharyngeal cancer.

There are no specific Canadian statistics available for the different stages of oropharyngeal cancer. But Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) of the National Cancer Institute divides the cancer into summary stages.

Survival is reported as 5-year relative survival. Relative survival looks at how likely people with cancer are to survive after their diagnosis compared to people in the general population who do not have cancer, but who share similar characteristics (such as age and sex).

Local means the cancer is only in the area where it started and includes stages 1 and 2, as well as stage 3 if there is no spread to the lymph nodes. The 5-year relative survival rate for local disease is 83.7%.

Regional means the cancer has spread to nearby tissues or organs with or without spread to nearby lymph nodes. It includes some stage 3 cancers and stage 4 cancers that haven’t spread to distant parts of the body. The 5-year relative survival for regional disease is 64.2%

Distant means the cancer has spread to distant parts of the body. The 5-year relative survival for distant disease is 38.5%.

For cancers that aren’t staged, the 5-year relative survival is 47.9%.

Questions about survival

Talk to your doctor about your prognosis. A prognosis depends on many factors, including:

  • your health history
  • the type of cancer
  • the stage
  • certain characteristics of the cancer
  • the treatments chosen
  • how the cancer responds to treatment

Only a doctor familiar with these factors can put all of this information together with survival statistics to arrive at a prognosis.

Expert review and references

Medical disclaimer

The information that the Canadian Cancer Society provides does not replace your relationship with your doctor. The information is for your general use, so be sure to talk to a qualified healthcare professional before making medical decisions or if you have questions about your health.

We do our best to make sure that the information we provide is accurate and reliable but cannot guarantee that it is error-free or complete.

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