Nasal Cavity and Paranasal Sinus Cancers

Sinus Cavities
Sinus Cavities. A.D.A.M

The sinuses, which are more accurately referred to as the paranasal sinuses, are four pairs of hollow spaces in the skull. They are lined with a mucous membrane and produce the mucous that both lubricates the nasal passageways and traps unwanted debris before it enters the body. The sinus cavities all have a small opening that allows this mucous to drain into the nasal passageways. Since the sinuses each have an opening which connects them to the nasal passageways, cancerous cells that develop in one of these areas often spread to the other area.

Types of Nasal Cavity and Paranasal Sinus Cancers

Cancer occurs when the DNA of a cell mutates and cells begin to divide at an abnormally fast rate. This results in rapid growth of tissue masses called tumors, which can press on nerves, blood vessels and other structures, making it difficult for them to function. Cancerous cells can also enter the blood stream and migrate to other areas of the body (metastasis). There are four types of cells in the sinuses and nasal cavities; the type of cancer a person has depends on which type of cell has mutated. The four types of cancer that occur in the nose and sinuses are:

  • melanoma - cancer that starts in cells that give pigment color to skin
  • sarcoma - cancer that originates in the cells of muscle or connective tissue
  • inverting papilloma - only tumor that is non-cancerous (benign) that originates inside the nasal cavity
  • midline granulomas - as the name suggests, is a cancer that originates in the middle part of the face. This type of cancer is rare and very destructive to nasal tissue.

    Cancer of the sinuses and nasal passageways is very rare in the United States, with only about 2,000 cases diagnosed per year.

    Nasal Cavity and Paranasal Cancer Risk Factors

    It is virtually impossible to tell who will develop cancer and who won't. However, some risk factors are known to be more common among people who develop certain types of cancer; so it's important to remember that some people who develop cancer don't have any known risk factors, while other people may have multiple risk factors and never get cancer.

    Known risk factors for the development of sinus and nasal cavity cancers are:

    • occupational exposure to certain chemicals or dust (common among woodworkers and carpenters, shoemakers, or those who work in sawmills or flour mills)
    • HPV infection - this is the same virus that causes cervical cancer and has recently caused a dramatic increase in the incidence of head and neck cancers
    • men are more likely to develop this type of cancer than women
    • you are more likely to develop this cancer if you are over the age of 40
    • smokers are more likely to develop this cancer than non-smokers
    • individuals who have a history of retinoblastoma (eye cancer) are more likely to develop this cancer

    Symptoms Relate to Nasal Cavity and Paranasal Cancer

    It's important to remember that the signs and symptoms of cancer in the nose or sinus cavities are very similar to symptoms of other conditions, including sinusitis. Some people with cancer may have many of the symptoms listed, while others may have absent or few symptoms.

    Signs and symptoms may include:

    • blocked sinuses
    • a feeling of pressure in the sinuses
    • sinus headaches
    • runny nose or post nasal drip
    • nosebleeds
    • ear pain
    • toothaches
    • loose teeth
    • numbness or tingling in your face
    • blurred vision or eye trouble
    • lumps or sores inside of the nose that do not heal
    • lumps on the face or roof of the mouth
    • difficulty opening the mouth
    • pus draining from the nose
    • enlarged lymph nodes in the neck
    • decreased sense of smell

    Diagnosis of Nasal Cavity and Paranasal Sinus Cancer

    In addition to a physical exam and a report of your personal medical history, a doctor may use one or more of the following tests to diagnose cancer of the nose or sinuses:

    Because benign (non-cancerous) growths such as nasal polyps can grow inside of the nose and sinus cavities, a biopsy will ultimately be necessary to confirm cancer. A biopsy involves the removal of small samples of tissue which are sent to a laboratory for analysis.

    Treatment of Nasal Cavity and Paranasal Sinus Cancer

    There are 3 types of treatment for nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer. The type of treatment your doctor recommends will depend on the type of cancer, where the cancer is, and if it has spread. The three types of treatment used are:

    • Surgery to remove tumors
    • radiation to kill cancer cells
    • chemotherapy

    Even after treatment is completed, you should be closely monitored to make sure the cancer does not return, or that any recurrence is quickly detected and early treatment can be begin


    American Cancer Society. Nasal Cavity and Paranasal Sinuses Cancer. Accessed: March 30, 2013 from

    National Cancer Institute.Paranasal Sinus and Nasal Cavity Cancer Treatment (PDQ). Accessed: December 30, 2015 from

    New York Presbyterian. Nasal Cavity and Paranasal Sinus Cancer. Accessed: March 31, 2013 from

    Continue Reading