More than 90% of tumors and tumor-like lesions in the oral cavity are benign.[1,2,3,4] Oral cavity cancer is extremely rare in children and adolescents.[5,6] According to the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program Stat Fact Sheets, only 0.6% of all cases are diagnosed in patients younger than 20 years, and in 2008, the age-adjusted incidence for this population was 0.24 cases per 100,000.
The incidence of cancer of the oral cavity and pharynx has increased in adolescent and young adult females, and this pattern is consistent with the national increase in orogenital sexual intercourse in younger females and human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. It is currently estimated that the prevalence of oral HPV infection in the United States is 6.9% in people aged 14 to 69 years and that HPV causes about 30,000 oropharyngeal cancers. Furthermore, from 1999 to 2008, the incidence rates for HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer increased by 4.4% per year in White men and 1.9% in White women.[8,9,10] Current practices to increase HPV immunization rates in both boys and girls may reduce the burden of HPV-related cancers.[11,12]
Benign odontogenic neoplasms of the oral cavity include odontoma and ameloblastoma. The most common nonodontogenic neoplasms of the oral cavity are fibromas, hemangiomas, and papillomas. Tumor-like lesions of the oral cavity include lymphangiomas, granulomas, and Langerhans cell histiocytosis.[1,2,3,4] (Refer to the Oral cavity subsection in the PDQ summary on Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis Treatment for more information about Langerhans cell histiocytosis of the oral cavity.)
Malignant lesions of the oral cavity were found in 0.1% to 2% of a series of oral biopsies performed in children [1,2] and 3% to 13% of oral tumor biopsies.[3,4] Malignant tumor types include lymphomas (especially Burkitt) and sarcomas (including rhabdomyosarcoma and fibrosarcoma). Mucoepidermoid carcinomas of the oral cavity have rarely been reported in the pediatric and adolescent age group. Most are low or intermediate grade and have a high cure rate with surgery alone.; [Level of evidence: 3iiiA]
Review of the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program database identified 54 patients younger than 20 years with oral cavity squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) between 1973 and 2006. Pediatric patients with oral cavity SCC were more often female and had better survival than adult patients. When differences in patient, tumor, and treatment-related characteristics are adjusted for, the two groups experienced equivalent survival.[Level of evidence: 3iA] A retrospective study of the National Cancer Database identified 159 patients younger than 20 years with SCC of the head and neck. Of these tumors, 55% originated in the oral cavity, and patients with laryngeal tumors had a better survival rate than did those who presented with oral cavity primary tumors.
Cancer in children and adolescents is rare, although the overall incidence has been slowly increasing since 1975. Referral to medical centers with multidisciplinary teams of cancer specialists experienced in treating cancers that occur in childhood and adolescence should be considered. This multidisciplinary team approach incorporates the skills of the following health care professionals and others to ensure that children receive treatment, supportive care, and rehabilitation that will achieve optimal survival and quality of life:
(Refer to the PDQ Supportive and Palliative Care summaries for specific information about supportive care for children and adolescents with cancer.)
The American Academy of Pediatrics has outlined guidelines for pediatric cancer centers and their role in the treatment of pediatric patients with cancer. At these pediatric cancer centers, clinical trials are available for most types of cancer that occur in children and adolescents, and the opportunity to participate is offered to most patients and their families. Clinical trials for children and adolescents diagnosed with cancer are generally designed to compare potentially better therapy with current standard therapy. Most of the progress made in identifying curative therapy for childhood cancers has been achieved through clinical trials. Information about ongoing clinical trials is available from the NCI website.
Dramatic improvements in survival have been achieved for children and adolescents with cancer. Between 1975 and 2010, childhood cancer mortality decreased by more than 50%. Childhood and adolescent cancer survivors require close monitoring because side effects of cancer therapy may persist or develop months or years after treatment. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Late Effects of Treatment for Childhood Cancer for specific information about the incidence, type, and monitoring of late effects in childhood and adolescent cancer survivors.)
Childhood cancer is a rare disease, with about 15,000 cases diagnosed annually in the United States in individuals younger than 20 years. The U.S. Rare Diseases Act of 2002 defines a rare disease as one that affects populations smaller than 200,000 people. Therefore, all pediatric cancers are considered rare.
The designation of a rare tumor is not uniform among pediatric and adult groups. In adults, rare cancers are defined as those with an annual incidence of fewer than six cases per 100,000 people. They account for up to 24% of all cancers diagnosed in the European Union and about 20% of all cancers diagnosed in the United States.[5,6] Also, the designation of a pediatric rare tumor is not uniform among international groups, as follows:
Most cancers in subgroup XI are either melanomas or thyroid cancer, with other types accounting for only 1.3% of cancers in children aged 0 to 14 years and 5.3% of cancers in adolescents aged 15 to 19 years.
These rare cancers are extremely challenging to study because of the low number of patients with any individual diagnosis, the predominance of rare cancers in the adolescent population, and the lack of clinical trials for adolescents with rare cancers.
Information about these tumors may also be found in sources relevant to adults with cancer, such as the PDQ summary on Lip and Oral Cavity Cancer Treatment (Adult).
Treatment of benign oral cavity tumors is surgical.
Treatment options for childhood oral cavity cancer include the following:
Management of malignant tumors of the oral cavity is dependent on histology and may include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. Most reported cases of oral cavity squamous cell carcinoma managed with surgery alone have done well without recurrence.[2,3] (Refer to the PDQ summary on Lip and Oral Cavity Cancer Treatment [Adult] for more information.)
Langerhans cell histiocytosis of the oral cavity may require treatment in addition to surgery. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis Treatment for more information.)
Information about National Cancer Institute (NCI)–supported clinical trials can be found on the NCI website. For information about clinical trials sponsored by other organizations, refer to the ClinicalTrials.gov website.
The following is an example of a national and/or institutional clinical trial that is currently being conducted:
Patients with tumors that have molecular variants addressed by treatment arms included in the trial will be offered treatment on Pediatric MATCH. Additional information can be obtained on the NCI website and ClinicalTrials.gov website.
The PDQ cancer information summaries are reviewed regularly and updated as new information becomes available. This section describes the latest changes made to this summary as of the date above.
Editorial changes were made to this summary.
This summary is written and maintained by the PDQ Pediatric Treatment Editorial Board, which is editorially independent of NCI. The summary reflects an independent review of the literature and does not represent a policy statement of NCI or NIH. More information about summary policies and the role of the PDQ Editorial Boards in maintaining the PDQ summaries can be found on the About This PDQ Summary and PDQ® - NCI's Comprehensive Cancer Database pages.
Purpose of This Summary
This PDQ cancer information summary for health professionals provides comprehensive, peer-reviewed, evidence-based information about the treatment of childhood oral cavity cancer. It is intended as a resource to inform and assist clinicians in the care of their patients. It does not provide formal guidelines or recommendations for making health care decisions.
Reviewers and Updates
This summary is reviewed regularly and updated as necessary by the PDQ Pediatric Treatment Editorial Board, which is editorially independent of the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The summary reflects an independent review of the literature and does not represent a policy statement of NCI or the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Board members review recently published articles each month to determine whether an article should:
Changes to the summaries are made through a consensus process in which Board members evaluate the strength of the evidence in the published articles and determine how the article should be included in the summary.
The lead reviewers for Childhood Oral Cavity Cancer Treatment are:
Any comments or questions about the summary content should be submitted to Cancer.gov through the NCI website's Email Us. Do not contact the individual Board Members with questions or comments about the summaries. Board members will not respond to individual inquiries.
Levels of Evidence
Some of the reference citations in this summary are accompanied by a level-of-evidence designation. These designations are intended to help readers assess the strength of the evidence supporting the use of specific interventions or approaches. The PDQ Pediatric Treatment Editorial Board uses a formal evidence ranking system in developing its level-of-evidence designations.
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The preferred citation for this PDQ summary is:
PDQ® Pediatric Treatment Editorial Board. PDQ Childhood Oral Cavity Cancer Treatment. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Updated <MM/DD/YYYY>. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/head-and-neck/hp/child/oral-cavity-treatment-pdq. Accessed <MM/DD/YYYY>. [PMID: 26389315]
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Last Revised: 2022-03-01
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