A Snapshot of Head and Neck Cancer
Incidence and Mortality
Cancers of the head and neck, which include cancers of the oral cavity, larynx, pharynx, salivary glands, and nose/nasal passages, account for approximately three percent of all malignancies in the United States. Overall incidence began decreasing 30 years ago and stabilized in 2003, whereas overall mortality rates have steadily declined. Notably, the incidence of head and neck cancer in African Americans has declined over the past two decades and is now lower than that in whites. The mortality rate also has decreased among African Americans but is still higher than that in whites.
Tobacco and alcohol use are the most important risk factors for most head and neck cancers. Additionally, infection with certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV) causes more than half of all cases of oropharyngeal cancer, a type of head and neck cancer. There are no standard or routine screening tests for head and neck cancers. Standard treatments for head and neck cancers include radiation therapy and surgery, and for certain types of head and neck cancer, chemotherapy.
It is estimated that approximately $3.6 billion1 is spent in the United States each year on treatment for head and neck cancers.
Examples of NCI Activities Relevant to Head and Neck Cancer
- Supportive and Palliative Care Clinical Trials explore ways to manage the physical, psychological, and emotional side effects of cancer and cancer therapies. Some of these trials include patients undergoing treatment for head and neck squamous cell carcinoma.
- The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) researchers are systematically identifying the major genomic changes involved in cancer using state-of-the-art genomic analysis technologies. TCGA is investigating several cancer types, including cancers of the head and neck. TCGA researchers are hoping to determine whether genomic changes are different between metastatic and nonmetastatic head and neck tumors and to identify genomic differences associated with age, smoking history, and HPV infection.
- The International Head and Neck Cancer Epidemiology Consortium facilitates collaborative research on the epidemiology of head and neck cancer.
- NCI supports studies that explore Biomarkers of Infection-Associated Cancers, including a project that is identifying a biomarker specific for HPV-associated head and neck squamous cell carcinoma to use for developing a sensitive and specific screening tool for early-stage cancer.
- The Phase III Randomized Study of Radiotherapy with Cisplatin or Cetuximab in Patients with Human Papilloma Virus-Associated Oropharyngeal Cancer is the first randomized clinical trial specifically targeting HPV-positive patients with oropharyngeal cancer, who may benefit more than HPV-negative patients from radiation plus cetuximab therapy.
- Five Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPOREs) in head and neck cancer support translational research on cancers of the upper aerodigestive tract and thyroid cancer. SPORE researchers are addressing markers of genetic susceptibility of head and neck cancer and novel therapies for treatment and prevention.
Selected Advances in Head and Neck Cancer Research
- The combination of erlotinib and celecoxib significantly inhibited head and neck cancer cell growth in preclinical models and induced responses in some patients with advanced precancerous oral lesions. Published February 2013. [PubMed Abstract]
- Preventing the destruction of the tumor suppressor protein p53 in HPV-positive head and neck squamous cell carcinoma cells promoted apoptosis and cell cycle arrest. Published February 2013. [PubMed Abstract]
- A statistical approach known as group-based trajectory modeling can be used to identify subgroups of patients with head and neck cancer who may experience high symptom burden while undergoing aggressive, nonsurgical therapy. Published March 2013. [PubMed Abstract]
- Antibodies against HPV may help identify individuals who are at greatly increased risk of HPV-related cancer of the oropharynx. Published June 2013. [PubMed Abstract]
- See this PubMed list of selected free full-text journal articles on NCI-supported research relevant to head and neck cancer. You can also search PubMed for additional scientific articles or to complete a search tutorial.
Trends in NCI Funding for Head and Neck Cancer Research
The National Cancer Institute's (NCI) investment2 in head and neck cancer3 research increased from $76.1 million in fiscal year (FY) 2008 to $77.1 million in FY 2009 before decreasing to $65.0 million in FY 2012. In addition to this funding, NCI supported $13.8 million in head and neck cancer research in FY 2009 and FY 2010 using funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).4
Additional Resources for Head and Neck Cancer
- What You Need To Know About™ Oral Cancer
Describes possible risks, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment for someone recently diagnosed with oral cancer.
- What You Need To Know About™ Cancer of the Larynx
Describes possible risks, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment for someone recently diagnosed with laryngeal cancer.
- Head and Neck Cancer Home Page
NCI's gateway for information about endometrial cancer.
- Head and Neck Cancers Fact Sheet
NCI's gateway for information about endometrial cancer.
- Laryngeal Cancer Treatment (PDQ®)
Expert-reviewed information summary about the treatment of laryngeal cancer.
- Lip and Oral Cavity Treatment (PDQ®)
Expert-reviewed information summary about the treatment of lip and oral cavity cancer.
- Oropharyngeal Cancer Treatment (PDQ®)
Expert-reviewed information summary about the treatment of oropharyngeal cancer.
- Hypopharyngeal Cancer Treatment (PDQ®)
Expert-reviewed information summary about the treatment of hypopharyngeal cancer.
- Nasopharyngeal Cancer Treatment (PDQ®)
Expert-reviewed information summary about the treatment of nasopharyngeal cancer.
- Paranasal Sinus and Nasal Cavity Cancer Treatment (PDQ®)
Expert-reviewed information summary about the treatment of paranasal sinus and nasal cavity cancer.
- Salivary Gland Cancer Treatment (PDQ®)
Expert-reviewed information summary about the treatment of salivary gland cancer.
- Clinical Trials for Laryngeal Cancer
- Clinical Trials for Lip and Oral Cavity Cancer
- Clinical Trials for Oropharyngeal Cancer
- Clinical Trials for Hypopharyngeal Cancer
- Clinical Trials for Nasopharyngeal Cancer
- Clinical Trials for Paranasal Sinus and Nasal Cavity Cancer
- Clinical Trials for Salivary Gland Cancer
- 1 Cancer Trends Progress Report, in 2010 dollars.
- 2 The estimated NCI investment is based on funding associated with a broad range of peer-reviewed scientific activities. For additional information on research planning and budgeting at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), see About NIH.
- 3 FY 2008–2009 head and neck cancer funding includes thyroid cancer funding.
- 4 For more information regarding ARRA funding at NCI, see Recovery Act Funding at NCI.