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BACKGROUND: An increasing trend of oropharyngeal cancer (OPC) has been reported in several countries with different demographic characteristics, and often attributed to increases in human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. The survival of patients with OPC has steadily improved, especially for those with positive HPV status. This study assessed the incidence, trends, and survival of OPC in Aotearoa New Zealand (NZ) by age at diagnosis, sex and ethnicity. METHODS: The study included all 2109 patients resident in NZ with a primary diagnosis of oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma from 2006 to 2020, identified from the National Cancer Registry. We assessed age-standardised incidence rate (ASR), annual percent change (APC) and overall and relative survival rates. RESULTS: The average annual incidence of OPC was 2.2 per 100,000 population. There was a steady increase of 4.9% per year over 15 years. Although the incidence rates were higher in males over the study period, the overall rate of increase was similar in males (4.9%) and in females (4.3%). The incidence was highest in the 50-69-year group (8.8/100,000 population). This age group had an incidence that increased by 7.5% per year to 2018, and then declined. The main increase in rates was seen between the birth cohort of 1946-50 and that of 1956-60. The increase in incidence was seen in Māori and Pākehā/European populations, but no increase was seen in Pacific or Asian populations. The 5-year overall relative survival rate improved from 69% in 2006-13 to 78% in 2014-20. Survival rates were lower in older patients, females, and Māori patients. CONCLUSION: This study confirmed a substantial increase in OPC incidence in NZ, with some evidence to suggest a recent slowing in this increase. Māori and Pākehā/European had the highest incidence, while Pacific and Asian populations showed the lowest rates and no increase over the study period. Survival rates have improved over time, but remained lower in some demographic groups.

Original publication




Journal article


Cancer Epidemiol

Publication Date





HPV, Head and neck cancer, Incidence, New Zealand, Oropharyngeal cancer, Oropharynx, Survival, Trends