Key Points about Nasal and Sinus Cancer 

  • Being exposed to certain workplace chemicals or fumes can increase your risk of developing nasal and sinus cancer.
  • Being a smoker or regularly being around smokers can increase your risk of developing nasal and sinus cancer.
  • Treatment for nasal and sinus cancer can include surgery to remove the tumor and/or therapies to destroy the cancerous cells.

Overview

Nasal and sinus cancer are cancerous tumors (growths) in the passageways within your nose (nasal cavity).

Nasal and sinus cancer causes 

This type of cancer occurs when cells of the nasal and sinus passages receive a mutation in their DNA, which causes them to turn into abnormal cells and multiply rapidly. These abnormal cells accumulate into a tumor.

Nasal and sinus cancer risk factors

The following factors can increase your risk of developing nasal and sinus cancer:

  • Being a smoker
  • Being exposed to certain workplace chemical fumes and irritants, such as wood dust, glue, rubbing alcohol, formaldehyde, flour, chromium and nickel
  • Breathing in air pollution
  • Having human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Regularly being around secondhand smoke

Nasal and sinus cancer symptoms

Signs and symptoms of nasal and sinus symptoms can include:

  • Blockage in one side of the nose
  • Bulging of one eye
  • Change in vision
  • Decreased sense of smell
  • Difficulty opening your mouth
  • Frequent nosebleeds
  • Growth or mass in the face, nose or top of the mouth (palate)
  • Headache
  • Loosening or numbness of your teeth
  • Loss of hearing
  • Nasal congestion and stuffiness that worsens over time
  • Nasal drainage in the back of the nose and throat (post-nasal drip)
  • Numbness or pain in the face
  • Pain around the eyes
  • Pain or pressure in one ear
  • Pus drainage from the nose
  • Swollen lymph nodes in your neck
  • Watery eyes

Nasal and sinus cancer diagnosis

Your specialist may recommend one or more of the following tests to diagnose nasal and sinus cancer:

  • Physical exam. Your doctor will perform a comprehensive physical exam to check for signs of nasal and sinus cancer, such as checking your sinuses and lymph nodes in your neck.
  • Imaging tests. Your doctor may order an imaging test – such as computerized tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or positron emission tomography (PET) scan – to check for signs of nasal and sinus cancer. 
  • Biopsy. Your specialist will remove a small tissue sample (biopsy) for closer analysis in the lab.
  • Fine needle aspiration (FNA) biopsy. Your specialist uses a thin, hollow needle to remove some cells or a few drops of fluid from a tumor or lymph node. These are sent to the lab for closer analysis.

Nasal and sinus cancer treatment

Treatment for nasal and sinus cancer may include one or more of the following options:

  • Surgery. Your specialist removes the tumor or lymph nodes that contain the cancerous cells. 
  • Radiation therapy. This treatment uses high-energy beams – such as X-ray or protons – to destroy cancer cells. People typically have to undergo several rounds of radiation therapy treatment for results.
  • Chemotherapy. This treatment involves using medications – either oral (by mouth) or intravenous (by vein) – to destroy cancer cells.

When should I seek care?

If you experience any of these symptoms, start by voicing your concerns and symptoms to your primary care provider. From there, your doctor may suggest seeing an oncologist for more specialized treatment.