Nasal and sinus cancer

Nasal and sinus cancer affects the nasal cavity (the space behind your nose) and the sinuses (small, air-filled cavities inside your nose, cheekbones and forehead).

It's a rare type of cancer that most often affects men aged 50 to 60.

Nasal and sinus cancer is different to cancer in the area where the nose and throat connect. This is called nasopharyngeal cancer.

Picture of the nasal cavity and sinus


Symptoms of nasal and sinus cancer

The most common symptoms of nasal and sinus cancer are:

  • a persistent blocked nose, which usually only affects one side
  • nosebleeds
  • mucus draining from the nose, which may be blood-stained
  • a decreased sense of smell

These symptoms can be similar to more common and less serious conditions, such as a cold or sinusitis.

At a later stage, symptoms can include:

When to see your GP

See your GP if you notice any unusual or persistent symptoms. They're very unlikely to be caused by nasal or sinus cancer, but are worth getting checked out.

If your GP thinks you might need some tests to determine what's causing your symptoms, you'll usually be referred to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) consultant in hospital.

Tests you may have include:

  • a nasal endoscopy – where a long, thin, flexible tube attached to a light source is inserted into your nose to examine the area
  • a CT scan and a MRI scan
  • biopsy (where a small sample of tissue is removed and examined) – this may be done during an endoscopy or using a needle

Who's at risk of nasal and sinus cancer

Several factors are known to increase the risk of developing nasal and sinus cancer, including:

  • your gender – men are more likely to develop nasal and sinus cancer than women
  • prolonged exposure to certain substances through your work, including wood dust, leather dust, nickel, chromium and formaldehyde
  • smoking – the more you smoke, the higher your risk of developing several types of cancer, including nasal and sinus cancer
  • human papilloma virus (HPV) – a group of viruses that affect the skin and moist membranes, such as the mouth and throat

Treatments for nasal and sinus cancer

The best treatment depends on several factors, including how far the cancer has spread and your general health.

Treatment may include:

  • surgery to remove a tumour – which can be performed using surgical incisions (open surgery) or as keyhole surgery through the nose (endoscopic microsurgery)
  • radiotherapy – where high-energy radiation is used to kill the cancerous cells, shrink a tumour before surgery, or destroy small amounts of a tumour that may be left after surgery
  • chemotherapy – where medicine is used to help shrink or slow down the growth of a tumour, or to reduce the risk of the cancer returning after surgery

If you smoke, it’s important that you give up. Smoking increases your risk of cancer returning, and may cause you to have more side effects from treatment.

Your treatment will be organised by a head and neck cancer multidisciplinary team (MDT), who will discuss the treatment options with you. A combination of treatments will often be recommended.

Outlook for nasal and sinus cancer

There are many different types of cancer that can affect the nasal cavity and sinuses. The outlook varies, depending on the specific type you have.

Overall, around 1 in every 2 or 3 people with nasal and sinus cancer will live for at least 5 years after diagnosis.

But this can vary, depending on things such as exactly where the cancer is located and how far it's spread before being diagnosed and treated.

Nearly everyone diagnosed at an early stage will live for at least 5 years. But if it's not diagnosed until an advanced stage, only around 1 in every 3 to 5 people will live at least 5 years.

Cancer of the nasal cavity generally has a better outlook than cancer of the sinuses.

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Page last reviewed: 25/05/2016
Next review due: 31/10/2018