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Oral and oropharyngeal cancer


What is oral and oropharyngeal cancer?

Oral and oropharyngeal cancers are also known as head and neck cancers and is a general term for a range of cancers in the mouth, nose, thoat and neck region. About 9 out of 10 oral and oropharyngeal cancers start in the moist lining of the mouth, nose or throat. This lining is called the squamous epithelium, and these cancers are called mucosal squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs). Some head and neck cancers start in glandular cells, and many of these cancers are called adenocarcinomas.

You can access further information about oral and oropharyngeal cancer, including risk factors, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment from Cancer Council Victoria. You can also call our trusted cancer nurses on 13 11 20 for support and to learn about our range of services for people affected by cancer.

The Victorian Cancer Registry also operates an interactive web portal, Data Explorer, which provides more trends and statistics than published here.

How common is oral and oropharyngeal cancer?


Figure 1: Distribution of oral and oropharyngeal cancer incidence in 2020, by sex within age groups

Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2022)


Figure 2: Distribution of oral and oropharyngeal cancer incidence in 2020, compared to the distribution of the Victorian population in 2020, by 5-year age brackets

Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2022)

Oral and oropharyngeal cancer morphology

Figure 4 provides a summary of the different types of cells (morphology) which have caused oral and oropharyngeal cancers among all cases. Most oral and oropharyngeal cancer tumours, 85%, present as Squamous cell carcinoma tumours.


Figure 4: Distribution of oral and oropharyngeal cancer morphologies between 2011-2020

Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2022)


Oral and oropharyngeal cancer subtypes

Figure 5 provides a breakdown of oral and oropharyngeal cancers by subsite location in 2020. Most (21%) are found in the Tongue.


Figure 5: Distribution of oral and oropharyngeal cancer subsites in 2020

Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2022)

Geographical variance in oral and oropharyngeal cancer by local government area

Figure 6 demonstrates variation in age-standardised incidence rates of oral and oropharyngeal cancer, by local government areas. Darker shading indicates areas with higher rates of oral and oropharyngeal cancer.


Figure 6: Variation in the incidence of oral and oropharyngeal cancer for the period 2016-2020, by location of residence in Victoria

Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2022)


Oral and oropharyngeal cancer in people born overseas

Figure 7 shows the age standardised incidence rates of oral and oropharyngeal cancers in Australian-born Victorians compared to other major migrant groups, over the five-year period 2016 to 2020. The highest age standardised incidence rate for oral and oropharyngeal cancers was 14.9 for males born in the Australia and New Zealand region and the lowest rate of 5.6 was observed in males born in the Southern and Central Asia region. The highest age standardised incidence rate of oral and oropharyngeal cancers was 4.4 for females born in the North America region and the lowest rate of 1.6 was observed in females born in the Africa region.


Figure 7: Age standardised incidence rates and 95% confidence intervals for oral and oropharyngeal cancer in Victorians born in Australia compared to Victorians born in other countries for the period 2016-2020, by sex

Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2022)


Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2022)



Oral and oropharyngeal cancer five-year relative survival

Figure 8 shows the change in 5-year survival for oral and oropharyngeal cancer, and the 5-year survival trend for all cancers over the same time period. It demonstrates that five-year relative survival has increased for oral and oropharyngeal cancer between 1985-1989 and 2015-2019 from 60% to 73%.

Figure 8: Trend in five year relative survival following diagnosis of oral and oropharyngeal cancer in five year brackets, from the period 1985-1989 to 2015-2019

Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2022)

This webpage was last updated in May 2022