Key Points about Sinus Cancer

  • Sinus cancer occurs when abnormal cells grow in the space behind the nose, which is known as the sinus.
  • Doctors use imaging tests, biopsy and physical exams to diagnose sinus cancer.
  • Treatment for sinus cancer may involve surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy.


Sinus cancer is a type of head and neck cancer that begins in the opening behind your nose, known as the sinus. Cancer occurs when abnormal cells begin to grow out of control. The most common type of sinus cancer is squamous cell carcinoma. Also known as squamous cell cancer, this type occurs when squamous epithelial cells develop cancer.

Sinus cancer causes

Sinus cancer is caused when sinus cells develop mutations (changes) in their DNA.

Sinus cancer risk factors

The following factors may increase your risk for developing sinus cancer:

  • Being a smoker
  • Being Caucasian (white)
  • Being male
  • Being older than 55 years
  • Having a hereditary form of retinoblastoma (an eye disorder)
  • Having human papillomavirus (HPV)

Being exposed to the following occupational materials can also increase your risk for developing sinus cancer:

  • Certain glues
  • Dust from flour
  • Dust from textiles or leather
  • Formaldehyde
  • Mustard gas
  • Nickel and chromium dust
  • Radium
  • Wood dust from carpentry or sawmills

Sinus cancer symptoms

Signs and symptoms of sinus cancer can include:

  • Blockage on only one side of your nose
  • Changes in your sense of smell
  • Changes in your vision
  • Constant watery eyes
  • Difficulty opening your mouth
  • Headache
  • Hearing loss
  • Loosening or numbness in your teeth
  • Lump or mass in your face or nose that you can feel
  • Nasal congestion that won’t go away
  • Nosebleeds
  • Numbness or pain in your face
  • One eye bulging out
  • Pain above or below your eyes
  • Pain or pressure in one of your ears
  • Pus draining from your nose

Sinus cancer diagnosis

Your oncologist may use one or more of the following tests to diagnose this condition:

  • Physical exam - your doctor will perform a complete physical exam, including asking questions about your health history, symptoms and related risk factors.
  • Biopsy - in this test, your doctor removes a biopsy (small tissue sample) from your sinus. This sample is sent to the laboratory, where a specialist closely checks the biopsy for abnormalities.
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan - your doctor may order a CT scan of your head. This specialized imaging test uses a series of X-ray images to create detailed images of the inside of your body.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) - this test uses strong magnets to create detailed images of the inside of your body. Your doctor uses these images to get a closer look at your head.

Sinus cancer treatments

Depending on your personal health history, the extent of your sinus cancer and other factors, your oncologist may recommend one or more of the following treatment options:

  • Surgery - the most common first course of treatment for sinus cancer is surgery to remove the cancerous tissue and a surrounding margin of healthy tissue. Depending on the extent of your surgical procedure, you may also need to undergo reconstructive surgery.
  • Chemotherapy - this treatment involves the use of medications to destroy cancer cells. Chemotherapy drugs can be delivered via a pill taken orally (by mouth) or an intravenous, or IV, liquid (injected into a vein). You may need to undergo chemotherapy after you have surgery.
  • Immunotherapy - these types of therapies involve using the body’s immune system to fight cancer.
  • Radiation therapy - this treatment uses high-powered energy beams to destroy cancerous cells. You may need to undergo radiation therapy to destroy any cancerous cells that couldn’t be removed surgically.

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. 

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