Drop in head and neck cancer rates

The rate of head and neck cancer cases in Australia is dropping, as is the rate of deaths from these cancers, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

Head and neck cancer is a term used to describe a range of cancers that occur in the throat (pharynx and larynx), nose, sinuses and mouth.

The report, Head and neck cancers in Australia, presents the most recent data available on head and neck cancer incidence, mortality, survival and hospitalisations and also describes risk factors that can contribute to a person developing head and neck cancer.

'The rate of head and neck cancers fell from 19.3 to 16.8 cases diagnosed per 100,000 people between 1982 and 2009,' said AIHW spokesperson Justin Harvey.

Despite the rate of head and neck cancers falling, the total number of head and neck cancers diagnosed in Australia rose from 2,475 to 3,896 from 1982 to 2009. This increase can be attributed to Australia's increasing and ageing population.

'The number of head and neck cancer cases diagnosed in 2009 was higher for males than females-with males accounting for 74% of head and neck cancers compared to 26% for females (2,875 and 1,021, respectively),' Mr Harvey said.

The report also shows that the death rate for head and neck cancers fell from 6.1 to 3.8 deaths per 100,000 people between 1982 and 2011.

'Like the number of cases diagnosed in 2009, the actual number of deaths from head and neck cancers rose from 752 to 944 between 1982 and 2011,' Mr Harvey said.

'Again, this can be partly attributed to Australia's increasing and ageing population.'

From 2002-03 to 2011-12, the number of hospitalisations where head and neck cancer was the principal diagnosis increased from 7,448 to 8,478, an increase of 13.8%.

Overall, survival from head and neck cancers is improving. In 2006-2010, people diagnosed with head and neck cancers had a five-year survival of 68% compared to their counterparts in the general population. This was an improvement from 62% in 1982-1987.

The report also highlights key risk factors such as smoking and heavy consumption of alcohol, and includes a spotlight section on the human papillomavirus as a risk factor for head and neck cancers.

The AIHW is a major national agency set up by the Australian Government to provide reliable, regular and relevant information and statistics on Australia's health and welfare.

Canberra, 10 June 2014

Further information: Justin Harvey, AIHW, tel. 02 6249 5057, mob. 0450 677 562