An investigation published in the November issue of the Archives of Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery, one of the JAMA/Archives journals shows that mortality rates amongst U.S. individuals suffering from mouth- and pharynx cancer have decreased from 1993 to 2007, with the highest falls observed amongst men and women with at least 12 years of education.

Since the early 1990s in the U.S., improved treatment and detection as well as decreases in risk factors have contributed to a decline in death rates from leading types of cancer, such as breast, prostate, colorectal and lung cancers.

According to the study, among individuals aged between 25 to 64 years the decreases in mortality rates were mainly limited to patients who received higher education. Furthermore, over the past few decades death rates among individual with cancers of the oral cavity (mouth) and the pharynx (the area that starts behind the nose and ends at the top of the windpipe) have also decreased. However, how much this varies by educational level has never been analyzed for head and neck cancer.

Amy Y. Chen, M.D., M.P.H., of Emory University School of Medicine and the American Cancer Society, Atlanta, and team conducted a study to investigate mortality rates for individuals with mouth and pharynx cancer by race/ethnicity, sex, level of education as well as any association with the human papillomavirus (HPV, a family of viruses that can be transmitted through sexual contact).

The team examined data from the National Center for Health Statistics on white and black individuals, aged between 25 to 64 years, across 26 states.

The researchers explain:

“From 1993 to 2007, overall mortality rates for patients with oral cavity and pharynx cancer decreased among black and white men and women; however, rates among white men have stabilized since 1999.”

The most significant decreases in death rates were among black individuals who had at least 12 years of education.

The researchers state:

“Morality rates for patients with oral cavity and pharynx cancers decreased significantly among men and women with more than 12 years of education, regardless of race/ethnicity (expect for black women), whereas rates increased among white men with less than 12 years of education.”

The team report that for HPV-rated and HPV-unrelated sites death rates varied considerably.

They conclude:

“The difference in mortality trends may reflect the changing prevalence of smoking and sexual behavior among populations of different educational attainment.”

Written by Grace Rattue