Head and neck cancer audit: large variances in survival rates reported

Published: 08 Sep 2015

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

Access the full report via the Head and neck cancer programme page >

Audit clinical lead 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.”

Early stage larynx cancer showed that 15 in 20, four-year survival, but when discovered at a later stage the crude survival rate fell to nine in 20; similar figures were seen in oral cavity cancer. Patients are encouraged to seek help promptly for unexplained symptoms.

Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) has become a recognised and increasingly frequent cause of oropharynx cancer. The audit looked at the rate of Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) testing across England and Wales for the first time. The detection of this infection may help in the future with the management of HPV positive patients by helping to define an appropriate and targeted treatment pathway.

The results showed 51.6 per cent of oropharynx patients had a recorded HPV test status, of these patients 78.9 per cent had a HPV positive test result.

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 10th Annual Report 2014, which is managed by the Health and Social care information Centre. The report is commissioned by Healthcare Quality Improvement Partnership (HQIP), 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 8,429 patients between 1 November 2013 and 31 October 2014.