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 over 40.

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

Picture of the nasal cavity and sinus
Credit:

Gwen Shockey/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

Symptoms of nasal and sinus cancer

The most common symptoms of nasal and sinus cancer are:

  • a persistent blocked nose, which usually only affects 1 side
  • nosebleeds
  • a decreased sense of smell
  • mucus running from your nose
  • mucus draining into the back of your nose and throat

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:

  • pain or numbness in the face, particularly in the upper cheek
  • swollen glands in the neck
  • partial loss of vision or double vision
  • a bulging or persistently watering eye
  • pain or pressure in 1 ear
  • a persistent lump or growth on your face, nose or roof of your mouth

When to see your GP

See your GP if you notice any unusual or persistent symptoms. It's very unlikely they'll be caused by nasal or sinus cancer, but it's worth getting them checked out.

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

Diagnosing nasal and sinus cancer

Tests you may have to help diagnose nasal and sinus cancer include:

  • a nasal endoscopy (nasoendoscopy) – where a long, thin, flexible tube with a camera and light at the end is inserted into your nose to examine the area; this can be uncomfortable, so before the procedure you'll be asked whether you'd like anaesthetic sprayed on the back of your throat
  • a panendoscopy – where a series of connected telescopes are used to examine your upper airway (your mouth, nose, voice box and top of your oesophagus, or gullet); this is carried out under general anaesthetic
  • biopsy – where a small sample of tissue is removed and examined; this may be done during an endoscopy or by using a needle (a fine needle aspiration)

If you're diagnosed with nasal and sinus cancer, you may have a CT scan, MRI scan or PET scan to help stage and grade the cancer.

The Cancer Research UK website has more information about the stages and grades of different types of nasal and sinus cancer.

Risk groups for nasal and sinus cancer

Several factors are known to increase the risk of developing nasal and sinus cancer.

These include:

  • 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, cloth fibres, 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 (more than 1 in 5 nasal and sinus cancers are linked to HPV)

The Cancer Research UK website has more information about the risks and causes of nasal and sinus cancer.

Treatments for nasal and sinus cancer

The treatment recommended for you will depend on several factors, including the stage at which the cancer was diagnosed, how far it's spread, and your general level of health.

Treatment may include:

  • surgery to remove a tumour – this can be performed through 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 pieces 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 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'll discuss the treatment options with you. A combination of treatments will often be recommended.

The Cancer Research UK website has more information about the treatment of nasal and sinus cancer.

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 of nasal and sinus cancer you have, its exact location, how far it's spread before being diagnosed and treated, and your overall level of health and fitness.

More than 70 out of every 100 people with nasal and sinus cancer will survive for 1 year or more after diagnosis. Around 50 out of 100 people will survive for 5 years or more after being diagnosed.

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

The Cancer Research UK website has more information about the outlook for nasal and sinus cancer.

Help and support

Being diagnosed with nasal and sinus cancer can be a shock and may be difficult to come to terms with. Everyone reacts differently.

Talking about how you feel with your family and friends can be a big help. But if you're unable to talk with family or friends, other sources of help and support are available.

For example, Cancer Research UK has nurses you can speak to by calling 0808 800 4040 (freephone), 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

The Cancer Research UK website also has more about coping with a diagnosis of nasal and sinus cancer and living with nasal and sinus cancer.

Page last reviewed: 28/09/2018
Next review due: 28/09/2021