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New data highlights large variances in survival rates for head and neck cancers

03 September 2015: Audit shows four year crude survival rate of patients for the first time

*Please note this press release was updated 24th September 2015

The National Head and Neck Cancer Audit has found that the four year crude survival rate from the head and neck group of cancers4 ranged from over 60 per cent in patients diagnosed with cancer of the voice box (larynx) to only 33 per cent in patients with cancer of the hypopharynx (the area where the larynx and oesophagus meet).

The Audit confirmed the link between improved survival rates and early diagnosis and treatment, with patients encouraged to seek help promptly for unexplained symptoms.

It showed that three quarters of patients diagnosed with larynx cancer at an early stage had survived at four years, but this fell to just fewer than half of patients diagnosed at a later stage. Similar figures were seen in oral cavity cancer.

The Audit also looked at the rate of Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) testing across England for the first time. HPV has become a recognised and increasingly frequent cause of oropharynx cancer.

The results showed that of the oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma (OPSCC) patients that had a HPV test performed 5, 72.8 per cent had a HPV positive result6.

Waiting times for radiotherapy treatment for those with head and neck cancer have improved on average from 42 days to 41 days within this reporting period. However there remains a wide range of waiting times from referral to radiotherapy starting with one in four patients waiting 54 days or more from diagnosis to start their treatment.

The findings are published today in the National Head and Neck Cancer Audit tenth Annual Report 2014, which is managed by the Health and Social care Information Centre. The report is commissioned by Healthcare Quality Improvement Partnership (HQIP)2, funded by NHS England and the Welsh Government, and developed in partnership with British Association of Head and Neck Oncologists (BAHNO).

Data was submitted by all head and neck cancer teams in England and Wales relating to the care of 8429 patients between 1 November 2013 and 31 October 2014.

Audit lead clinician Mr Richard Wight said: "Since the Audit began ten years ago the findings have led to us now having one of the largest databases of over 54,000 head and neck cancer cases.

"The Audit has enabled monitoring of NHS standards of care down to trust level and helped support service reorganisation and appropriate commissioning.

"Referral to radiotherapy services is still highlighted as a problem with one in four patients waiting over a month and a half from diagnosis to start their treatment.

"We believe that audit provides an important tool in promoting standards of care for patients with head and neck cancer and has now become an excepted part of the routine workload of a head and neck multidisciplinary team."


Notes to editors

  1. The Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) was established on 1 April 2013 as an Executive Non Departmental Public Body (ENDPB). The trusted source of authoritative data and information relating to health and care, HSCIC plays a fundamental role in driving better care, better services and better outcomes for patients. The HSCIC supports the delivery of IT infrastructure, information systems and standards to ensure information flows efficiently and securely across the health and social care system to improve patient outcomes. Its work includes publishing more than 260 statistical publications annually; providing a range of specialist data services; managing informatics projects and programmes and developing and assuring national systems against appropriate contractual, clinical safety and information standards.
  2. The Healthcare Quality Improvement Partnership (HQIP) is led by a consortium of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, the Royal College of Nursing and National Voices. Its aim is to promote quality improvement, and in particular to increase the impact that clinical audit has on healthcare quality in England and Wales. HQIP holds the contract to manage and develop the National Clinical Audit Programme, comprising more than 30 clinical audits that cover care provided to people with a wide range of medical, surgical and mental health conditions. The programme is funded by NHS England, the Welsh Government and, with some individual audits, also funded by the Health Department of the Scottish Government, DHSSPS Northern Ireland and the Channel Islands.
  3. The audit analysis was performed by the HSCIC on data extracted from the Data for Head and Neck Oncologists (DAHNO) data collection database.
  4. Head and Neck Cancer describes a group of cancers (larynx, oral cavity, oropharynx, hypopharynx, nasopharynx, major salivary gland nose and sinuses and cancer of the bones of the jaw).
  5. A HPV test was classed as performed for a patient where there was confirmation of HPV testing occurring, and both the HPV test type and result were recorded.
  6. 1,018 (51.6 per cent) OPSCC patients had a recorded HPV test status of either yes, no or not applicable. Of these patients 803 (78.9 per cent) were recorded as having had a HPV test performed. For further information look at table
  7. Figures over one million have been rounded to the nearest 100,000. Figures over 100,000 have been rounded to the nearest 100. Figures over 1,000 have been rounded to the nearest 10.
  8. For media enquires please call 0300 303 3888 or email
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