How common is oral cancer?

John S. Maul, MD
Hematology & Oncology
According to the American Cancer Society, there were 36,540 new cases of oral cancer in 2010. Oral cancers are about twice as common in men as in women (new cases in men: 25,420; in women: 11,120). This difference is attributed to the fact that men are more likely to use tobacco and alcohol over long periods of time -- tobacco and alcohol use are risk factors associated with oral cancers. About 80% of people with oral cancers use tobacco, and 70% drink alcohol frequently (the use of both together increases the risk more than either by itself). Age is also a factor: half of all oral cancers are diagnosed in people over the age of 62. Other possible risk factors include sun exposure, diet, and human papilloma virus (HPV) infection. In 2010, new oral cancer cases made up about 2.4% of all new cancer diagnoses.

The American Cancer Society estimates that oral cancer affects over 35,000 Americans each year. Each year in the United States, more than 21,000 men and 9,000 women are diagnosed with oral cancer. Most are over 60 years old. Oral cancer is as common as leukemia. But there is some good news about the disease. If detected early, oral cancer can be cured.

The following are facts about the incidence and mortality of oral cancer:
  • Oral cancer strikes an estimated 34,360 Americans each year.
  • More than 25% of the 30,000 Americans who get oral cancer will die of the disease.
  • On average, only half of those diagnosed with the disease will survive more than five years.
  • African-Americans are especially vulnerable; the incidence rate is 1/3 higher than whites and the mortality rate is almost twice as high.
  • There has been a nearly five-fold increase in incidence in oral cancer patients under age 40, many with no known risk factors.
  • The incidence of oral cancer in women has increased significantly, largely due to an increase in women smoking. In 1950 the male to female ratio was 6:1; by 2002, it was 2:1.
Jonathan B. Levine, DMD
Roughly 43,200 Americans are diagnosed with oral or pharyngeal cancer every year, and more than 8,000 people die from these diseases annually. If you do the math, that means at least one person per hour will die from oral cancer. This is one of the only cancers where the survival rates have not significantly improved in 30 years.

Early detection is critical for this disease, as studies link survival rate to stage at diagnosis. Oral cancer is often caught at a later stage and consequently has one of the lowest survival rates.

This content originally appeared on

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.