Scanty data are available on the incidence (i.e., the absolute risk) of second cancers of the head and neck (HN) and its pattern with age. We investigated this issue using data from a multicentric study of 13 population-based cancer registries from Europe, Canada, Australia and Singapore for the years 1943-2000. A total of 99,257 patients had a first primary HN cancer (15,985 tongue, 22,378 mouth, 20,758 pharyngeal, and 40,190 laryngeal cancer), contributing to 489,855 person-years of follow-up. 1294 of the patients (1.3%) were diagnosed with second HN cancers (342 tongue, 345 mouth, 418 pharynx, and 189 larynx). Male incidence rates of first HN cancer steeply increased from 0.68/100,000 at age 30-34 to 46.2/100,000 at age 70-74, and leveled off at higher age; female incidence increased from 0.50/100,000 at age 30-34 to 16.5/100,000 at age 80-84. However, age-specific incidence of second HN cancers after a first HN cancer in men was around 200-300/100,000 between age 40-44 and age 70-74, and tended to decline at subsequent ages (150/100,000 at age 80-84); in women, incidence of second HN cancers was around 200-300/100,000 between age 45-49 and 80-84. The patterns of age-specific incidence were consistent for different subsites of second HN cancer and sexes; moreover, they were similar for age-specific incidence of first primary HN cancer in patients who subsequently developed a second HN cancer. The incidence of second HN cancers does not increase with age, but remains constant, or if anything, decreases with advancing age.
While the incidence of first primary cancers of the head and neck increases with advancing age that of second primary cancers is stable between age 40 and 70 and, if anything, declines thereafter.