Oral cancer occurs more often in people aged 55 years and older. As age increases, the survival rates for oral cavity and pharynx cancers decline.

Oral cavity and pharynx cancers have a better survival rate when doctors diagnose and treat them early.

While a small percentage of people survive oral cancer in the later stages, the outlook is better when doctors find and treat it early.

This article discusses oral cancer survival rates by age and cancer stage and lists factors that can influence cancer outcomes.

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The Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) database tracks cancer survival statistics.

According to SEER, the median age for oral cavity and pharynx cancer diagnosis is 64 years. The median age at death from oral cavity and pharynx cancer is 68 years.

Age group (years)Percentage of new casesPercentage of deaths

Oropharyngeal and oral cavity cancers occur most often in older people.

Only around 20% of people who receive an oral cavity and pharynx cancer diagnosis are younger than 55 years.

Learn more

Learn more about oral cancer.

Cancer survival rates reflect only the stage of cancer at the time of diagnosis.

Other factors that can change the outlook include:

  • the person’s age
  • overall health
  • treatment choices
  • how cancer responds to treatment
  • whether a person uses tobacco or alcohol

Dietary choices may also play a role in the outlook for oral cancer.

A 2021 study notes there may be an association with dietary choices in preventing oral cancer and slowing the growth and spread of existing oral cancer.

Helpful dietary choices include:

Inflammation-causing foods to avoid include:

In addition to the presence or absence of beneficial nutrients, the researchers think that diet may change gene expression — known as epigenetics — which can influence cancer risk.

Some common questions to ask a doctor about oral cancer include:

  • What type of cancer do I have?
  • Is my cancer p16-positive or p16-negative? This relates to the presence of HPV DNA in the cancer, which can affect a person’s outlook.
  • What stage is my cancer?
  • What is the outlook for people my age?
  • If I stop using tobacco and alcohol, can this improve the outcome?
  • What are my treatment options?
  • How will my treatment affect my daily life?
  • Will I need time off work?
  • How can I afford the cost of my care?

This section answers some common questions about oral cancer statistics.

What is the life expectancy for oral cancer?

The 5-year relative survival rate for oral cavity and pharynx cancer is 68.0%.

A 5-year relative survival rate is the percentage of people with the same type and stage of cancer who live for 5 years or longer, compared with the overall population.

The stages are as follows:

  • Localized: Cancer has not spread beyond its primary location.
  • Regional: Cancer has spread to lymph nodes or nearby structures.
  • Distant: Cancer has spread through the body to distant locations, such as the lungs.

The SEER 5-year relative survival rates for oral cancer depend on the type of cancer and its SEER stage:

Cancer typeLocalizedRegionalDistantAll stages combined
Mouth floor73%41%23%52%

Current survival rates may be better than the figures above.

This is because cancer treatments improve as time goes on, and 5-year relative survival rates reflect statistics from at least 5 years ago.

How long can someone live with untreated mouth cancer?

A 2017 study found that some people survive oral cancer long-term, even without treatment.

The 5-year survival rate without treatment for people diagnosed with early stage oral cancer was 31.1%. The 5-year survival rate without treatment for people diagnosed with stage 4 oral cancer was 12.6%.

Is oral cancer fully curable?

The stage of a cancer determines how well it responds to treatment.

Early stage cancers that have not spread have a higher chance of successful treatment. Sometimes, doctors can fully cure the cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, people with oral cavity cancers in stages 1 and 2 do well with treatments such as:

  • surgery
  • radiation
  • chemoradiation — chemotherapy given with radiation

The oral cancer survival rate improves with earlier detection. As people age, their risk of dying from this type of cancer increases.

People living with stage 1 or 2 oral cancer often do well with treatment. Although some people survive oral cancer without treatment, the outlook improves significantly with interventions such as surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

Five-year survival rates reflect only the stage of the cancer at the time of diagnosis. Other factors can influence the outcome, such as a person’s age and how their cancer responds to treatment.