Head and Neck Cancer Incidence in the United States Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg


IMPORTANCE: Research about population-level changes in the incidence and stage of head and neck cancer (HNC) associated with the COVID-19 pandemic is sparse.

OBJECTIVE: To examine the change in localized vs advanced HNC incidence rates before and during the first year of the pandemic.

DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS: In this cross-sectional study of patients in the US diagnosed with HNC from 2017 to 2020, the estimated number with cancer of the oral cavity and pharynx (floor of mouth; gum and other mouth; lip; oropharynx and tonsil; and tongue) and larynx were identified from the SEER cancer registry. Subgroup analyses were stratified by race and ethnicity, age, and sex. Data were analyzed after the latest update in April 2023.

EXPOSURE: The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES: The primary outcomes were the annual incidence rates per 100 000 people for localized HNC (includes both localized and regional stages) and advanced HNC (distant stage) and weighted average annual percentage change from 2019 to 2020. Secondary outcomes included annual percentage change for 2017 to 2018 and 2018 to 2019, which provided context for comparison.

RESULTS: An estimated 21 664 patients (15 341 [71%] male; 10 726 [50%] ≥65 years) were diagnosed with oral cavity and pharynx cancer in 2019 in the US, compared with 20 390 (4355 [70%] male; 10 393 [51%] ≥65 years) in 2020. Overall, the HNC incidence rate per 100 000 people declined from 11.6 cases in 2019 to 10.8 in 2020. The incidence rate of localized cancer declined to 8.8 cases (-7.9% [95% CI, -7.5 to -8.2]) from 2019 to 2020. The localized cancer incidence during the first year of the pandemic decreased the most among male patients (-9.3% [95% CI, -9.2 to -9.5]), Hispanic patients (-12.9% [95% CI, -12.9 to -13.0]), and individuals with larynx cancer (-14.3% [95% CI, -13.6 to -15.0]). No change in the overall incidence rate was found for advanced HNC.

CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE: In this cross-sectional study, the incidence of localized HNC declined during the first year of the pandemic. A subsequent increase in advanced-stage diagnoses may be observed in later years.

Medical Subject Headings

Humans; Male; United States; Female; Incidence; Pandemics; Cross-Sectional Studies; COVID-19; Head and Neck Neoplasms; Carcinoma

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ePub ahead of print





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