Startling Cancer Trends Among Young People

Oropharygeal cancer incidences skyrocketing among young people

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Cancer is generally a disease of an aging population. Cancer risks typically start to increase around the age of 50. But recent trends signal an alarming jump in a certain type of cancer among people under the age of 45.

Cancers that develop in areas of the mouth and throat have increased greatly among young people in recent years, according to a new study.

The biggest increases were seen in whites, while incidences of oral cancers have actually declined among blacks.

"Visit your doctor if sores in your mouth don’t get better."

Farzan Siddiqui, MD, PhD, director of the Head & Neck Radiation Therapy Program in the Department of Radiation Oncology at Henry Ford Hospital, was the lead investigator in this study.

“The growing incidence in oropharyngeal cancer has been largely attributed to the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, which led to an increased transmission of high-risk HPV," said Dr. Siddiqui in a press release.

The human papillomavirus (HPV) is exchanged through sexual activity and is linked to a number of cancers including genital and oral cancers.

This study was looking at oropharyngeal cancer, which can develop in the throat (pharynx), back of the tongue, tonsils or soft palate (back roof of the mouth).

Nearly 41,500 Americans will be diagnosed with oropharyngeal and other oral cancers this year. This cancer is almost three times more common in men than women.

For this study, the researchers examined the Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) database to identify individuals under the age of 45 who had been diagnosed with invasive squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) oropharyngeal cancer between 1973 and 2009.

SEER does not have HPV data, so the researchers looked at tumor grade as an indicator of HPV involvement.

A total of 1,603 individuals were identified, with 73 percent of them being white and 90 percent of the cases being in people aged 36 to 44.

Here’s what the data revealed:

  • Oropharyngeal cancer incidence among white people increased 113 percent during the 36-year study period.
  • Surprisingly, rates of this cancer have declined by 52 percent among black individuals.
  • Proportion of grade III/IV SCC rose from 28 percent in 1973-79 to 43 percent in 2000-2009.
  • 50 to 65 percent of the oral cancer patients underwent surgery to remove the tumors.
  • Five-year survival for the study group was 54 percent, with no gender differences in survival rates.
  • Patients who were treated with both surgery and radiation had the highest survival rates.
  • Black individuals tended to have significantly lower survival rates than people of 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,” Dr. Siddiqui said in a prepared statement.

The authors concluded that the predominance of oropharyngeal cancer in the under-45 age group “suggests either non-sexual modes of HPV transfer at a younger age or a shortened latency period between infection and development of oropharyngeal cancer.”

Findings from this study were presented at the American Society for Radiation Oncology’s (ASTRO’s) 55th Annual Meeting.

It should be noted that research is considered preliminary before it is published in a peer-reviewed journal.

This study was funded by the Henry Ford Hospital. No conflicts of interest were disclosed.

Review Date: 
September 25, 2013
Last Updated:
September 26, 2013