• oral carcinoma;
  • pharyngeal carcinoma;
  • tongue carcinoma;
  • tonsil carcinoma;
  • epidemiology;
  • young adults;
  • trends;
  • relative survival



An increasing incidence of oral carcinoma among young adults has been reported in the U.S. and Europe. Although the association between human papillomavirus infection and tonsillar carcinoma is now well established, to the authors' knowledge little is known about incidence trends in tonsillar carcinoma among younger adults. The objective of the current study was to explore the trends in both oral cavity and pharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) in younger U.S. populations, in particular tongue and tonsillar SCC.


Using the 1973–2001 Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) database, we computed age, race, and site-specific trends of oral and pharyngeal (excluding nasopharynx) carcinoma incidence rates. The percent change (PC) and annual percent change (APC) were computed to explore trends in incidence rates over time.


There were 2262 SCC of the oral cavity and 1251 SCC of the pharynx reported to the SEER program from 1973 to 2001 in adults aged 20–44 years. There was a statistically significant increase in the incidence of oral tongue SCC (APC = +2.1; P < 0.001), base of tongue SCC (APC = +1.7; P = 0.04), and palatine tonsil SCC (APC = +3.9; P < 0.001) among younger white individuals, whereas the incidence of SCC in all other oral and pharyngeal sites decreased or remained constant.


The increase in tonsil SCC incidence from 1973 to 2001 paralleled the increase in tongue SCC, whereas SCC in all other oral and pharyngeal sites remained constant or decreased. This may suggest similar etiologic factors for SCC affecting the palatine tonsils and tongue in younger populations. Cancer 2005. © 2005 American Cancer Society.