Nasal Cavity and Paranasal Sinus Cancer

Nasal cavity and sinus cancer refers to cancers that form in the nasal cavity and the paranasal sinuses inside of the skull. Each of these types of cancer has different characteristics and responds to different treatment.

Cancers of the nasal cavity and paranasal sinuses are rare, with about 2,000 people in the United States developing theses cancers each year. These cancers mainly affect older people -- the average age at diagnosis is 64 -- and are slightly more likely to affect men. Nasal cancers are more prevalent in some other places, notably Japan and South Africa.

Risk Factors

Not all of these cancers can be prevented, but avoiding certain risk factors can help. The largest risk comes from inhaling certain toxic substances in the workplace. Those substances include dust that accumulates at plants that manufacture or process wood, textile, leather, flour, nickel and chromium. Exposure to mustard gas and radium also increase the risk for nasal and paranasal cancers. Infection with the human papilloma virus (HPV) seems to be a factor in some cases. As is having inherited retinoblastoma -- a type of eye cancer -- that has been treated with radiation. Smoking is also considered a risk. There are no routine screening tests for these cancers.

Doctors discuss NYP's Otolaryngology Tumor Board, a panel where physicians from multiple specialties meet regularly to plan courses of treatment for their patients.


Nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancers rarely cause any symptoms when they are small and in their early stages. When symptoms do occur, they can be mistaken for sinus infections or other benign conditions. Many symptoms could indicate these cancers. Some of them affect the nose and include: unrelieved congestion and stuffiness, post-nasal drip, nosebleeds, pus draining from the nose, and poor sense of smell. Other symptoms affect the area around the eyes and include numbness or pain, incessant watering, bulging of the eyes, and loss of vision. Other symptoms are loosening teeth, a growth or mass on the face, ear pain, difficulty opening the mouth, and enlarged lymph nodes in the neck.

Prevention and Treatment

Most nasal cavity or paranasal sinus cancers require surgery to remove the cancer. Surgery may be combined with radiation or, in cases where surgery is not an option, radiation can be the primary treatment. Chemotherapy may be used either before or after surgery in certain circumstances.



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