Racial Disparities in Oropharyngeal Cancer

  • Lucia Pirisi
  • Swati Tomar
  • Saundra H. GloverEmail author


Significant disparities have been detected and documented over time among different racial/ethnic groups, and in particular between Black and White men, in oropharyngeal cancer (OPSCC) incidence and mortality rates. Both rates have improved in Black men in recent year, and a concomitant increase in incidence of OPSCC in Whites contributes to closing the gap, for what OPSCC incidence is concerned. However, mortality rates for OPSCC in Black men remain much higher than in Whites. The reasons for this lingering disparity are many and complex. Among all sites of head and neck cancer (HNC) the oropharynx is the most likely to harbor cancers driven by high-risk human papillomavirus (HPV): up to 60 % of OPSCC (up to 25 % of all head and neck cancers) are due to HPV, most often HPV16. HPV-positive cancers respond better to treatment and have a better prognosis than the HPV-negative ones that are mostly due to tobacco and alcohol consumption. Black men are less likely to have HPV-positive OPSCC, and this could contribute to the disparity in mortality for this cancer. However, this disparity is also deeply rooted in inequalities of treatment, access to care, and social factors that can be addressed and corrected.


Head and neck cancer Health disparity Oropharyngeal cancer Human papillomavirus HPV Social determinants Health insurance disparities Biologic determinants Lifestyle determinants Access to care 


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© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology, School of MedicineUniversity of South CarolinaColumbiaUSA
  2. 2.Department of Health Services, Policies and Management, Arnold School of Public HealthUniversity of South CarolinaColumbiaUSA

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