• epidemiology;
  • oral cancer;
  • trends

Abstract –Objectives: To explore changes in demographic distribution, incidence and survival rates of oral cancer in the United States from 1973 through 1996. Methods: From the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) data, we computed the proportion of oral cancer by demographic characteristics, site, and stage at diagnosis for 1973–84 and 1985–96. We estimated incidence and 5-year relative survival rates of oral cancer by age, gender, and race/ethnicity, and compared survival rates between the two periods. The estimated annual percent change (EAPC) was used to explore trends in incidence rate from 1973 through 1996. Results: Most of the tongue and floor of mouth cancers (>54%) reported during 1973–84 and 1985–96 had spread to a distant site at time of diagnosis. The age-adjusted annual incidence rates of oral cancer decreased among white men from 1973 through 1996, but increased among black men aged 65–69 years, and among young white men (aged 30–34 years) and women (aged 25–29 years). These changes in trend were all statistically significant (testing EAPC=0 at the 0.05 level). Overall, there was no improvement in the 5-year relative survival rate of either whites or blacks with oral cancer. Conclusion: There was little change in early detection of oral cancer or in 5-year relative survival rates between 1973–84 and 1985–96 in nine SEER regions. This suggests a deficiency in professional and public education regarding early diagnosis of oral cancer. Furthermore, the increasing trend of oral cancer among older black men and among younger whites merits further investigation.