Head and neck cancer (HNC) is a preventable malignancy that continues to cause substantial morbidity and mortality worldwide. Using data from the ARCAGE and Rome studies, we investigated the main predictors of survival after larynx, hypopharynx and oral cavity (OC) cancers. We used the Kaplan-Meier method to estimate overall survival, and Cox proportional models to examine the relationship between survival and sociodemographic and clinical characteristics. 604 larynx, 146 hypopharynx and 460 OC cancer cases were included in this study. Over a median follow-up time of 4.6 years, nearly 50% (n = 586) of patients died. Five-year survival was 65% for larynx, 55% for OC and 35% for hypopharynx cancers. In a multivariable analysis, we observed an increased mortality risk among older (≥71 years) versus younger (≤50 years) patients with larynx/hypopharynx combined (LH) and OC cancers [HR = 1.61, 95% CI 1.09-2.38 (LH) and HR = 2.12, 95% CI 1.35-3.33 (OC)], current versus never smokers [HR = 2.67, 95% CI 1.40-5.08 (LH) and HR = 2.16, 95% CI 1.32-3.54 (OC)] and advanced versus early stage disease at diagnosis [IV versus I, HR = 2.60, 95% CI 1.78-3.79 (LH) and HR = 3.17, 95% CI 2.05-4.89 (OC)]. Survival was not associated with sex, alcohol consumption, education, oral health, p16 expression, presence of HPV infection or body mass index 2 years before cancer diagnosis. Despite advances in diagnosis and therapeutic modalities, survival after HNC remains low in Europe. In addition to the recognized prognostic effect of stage at diagnosis, smoking history and older age at diagnosis are important prognostic indicators for HNC.