Head and neck cancers have a very poor prognosis and are common in France. They are subject to various recommendations for early detection and management, but there is no detailed data in the French general population to fuel the public health debate on it.
A high-resolution population-based study about cancer management was conducted, using cancers registries in the north-west of France, on 1729 tumors diagnosed between 2008 and 2010.
The tumors were diagnosed late (70.3% stage III–IV), mainly after the onset of symptoms (93.2%). After adjustment, advanced stages were more frequent in patients with hypopharyngeal [adjusted odds ratio (ORa): 4.68; 95% confidence interval [CI] 3.11–7.05] and oropharyngeal tumors (ORa: 2.84; 95% CI 2.02–3.99) compared with oral cavity ones. They were also more frequent in patients with moderate (ORa 1.68; 95% CI 1.12–2.52) or severe comorbidities (ORa 1.86; 95% CI: 1.23–2.80). A multidisciplinary meeting (MM) had taken place in 96.9% of cases. The assessment included a panendoscopy in 80.3% of cases, a cervical computerized tomography (CT) scan in 89.3% and a chest CT scan in 87.3%. The vast majority of patients (90.7%) had received treatment, with surgery in 48.7% of cases and/or radiotherapy in 76.9%.
Despite the recommendations for early detection, diagnoses are often made late, even for tumors that can be detected by a direct visual and tactile examination of the oral cavity. However, the major risk of advanced stage concerns deep tumors and the most weakened subjects. Otherwise, diagnostic assessment is broadly consistent with the recommendations, and multidisciplinary treatment decisions are widespread.