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Keywords:

  • epidemiology;
  • oral cancer;
  • racial disparity;
  • stage at diagnosis;
  • survival

Abstract  Objectives:  To explore distribution of stage at diagnosis and relative survival rates among US adults with oral cavity cancer in relation to race, and over time.

Methods:  We obtained 1973–2002 oral cancer incidence data from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program, and computed proportions for each oral cavity site by stage at diagnosis, tumor size, and 5-year relative survival rates among Whites and Blacks.

Results:  A total of 46 855 cases of oral cavity cancer were reported to the SEER registry among adults ≥20 years between 1973 and 2002. African–Americans had a significantly higher proportion of cancer, mainly in the tongue, that had spread to a regional node or to a distant site at diagnosis than Whites: 67% versus 49% of tongue cancers reported from 1973 to 1987 (P < 0.001), and 70% versus 53% of those reported from 1988 to 2002 (P < 0.001). They had a significantly higher proportion of tongue cancer that were >4 cm in diameter at time of diagnosis (59% versus 44%; P < 0.001), and black men in particular experienced lower 5-year relative survival rates than white men, in particular, for tongue cancer (25% versus 43% from 1973 to 1987, and 31% versus 53% from 1988 to 2002).

Conclusion:  There are significant racial disparities with respect to stage at diagnosis and survival among adults with oral cancer reported to the SEER registry from 1973 to 2002. One possible explanation for the lower survival among Blacks may be a difference in access to, and utilization of, healthcare services.