Medline: 8000993

Cancer 75(1): 353-356, 1995.

Cancer of unknown primary site.

Muir C


Cancers of the upper aerodigestive tract constitute approximately 4% of all malignancies. These include cancer of the lip, tongue, major salivary glands, gums and adjacent oral cavity tissues, floor of the mouth, tonsils, oropharynx, nasopharynx, hypopharynx and other oral regions, nasal cavity, accessory sinuses, middle ear, and larynx.

The histologically diagnosed cancers of the upper aerodigestive tract reported to the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results program of the National Cancer Institute in 1973-1987 were tabulated by histologic type, sex, age, and racial group, and according to quinquennium (1973-1977, 1978-1982, 1983-1987). Frequencies, age-specific incidence rates, median age, and extent of spread at diagnosis, stage, and survival were examined.

Cancer of the upper aerodigestive tract represented 3.5% of all microscopically proven malignant neoplasms. Except for salivary glands, gums, nasopharynx, and nasal cavity and accessory sinuses, epidermoid carcinomas accounted for greater than 95% of the cancers. For all aerodigestive sites combined, there was a 2-to-1 male-to-female ratio (greater for laryngeal cancer, which was approximately 5 to 1). Incidence in black males was often twice the levels recorded in white males, whereas rates for black and white females tended to be close. The 5-year relative survival was approximately 50% (90% for lip and 65% for larynx), was somewhat better for whites than for blacks, and did not improve significantly over the 15 years studied. Salivary gland adenocarcinoma carried a survival of approximately 80%.

Because many of the cancers of the upper aerodigestive tract are caused by alcohol and tobacco use, the potential for prevention is considerable.

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