Nasal & Sinus Cancer

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Cancer cells can form in almost any part of your body, even in your nose or sinuses. Medical experts call this paranasal sinus and nasal cavity cancer. At UVA Health, you'll find experts who are highly skilled in treating this and other cancers in the delicate head and neck area.

Nasal & Sinus Cancer Treatment

At UVA Health, our experts will design a treatment tailored for you. Your team may include the following specialists:

  • Radiation oncologist
  • Medical oncologist
  • Neurosurgeon
  • Head and neck surgeon
  • Rhinologist

You'll want to learn more about our expertise in head and neck cancers

What Are Paranasal Sinuses?

"Paranasal" means near the nose. The paranasal sinuses are hollow, air-filled spaces in the bones around the nose. The sinuses are lined with cells that make mucus. This keeps the inside of the nose from drying out during breathing.

Several paranasal sinuses are named after the bones that surround them:

  • Frontal sinuses are in the lower forehead above the nose
  • Maxillary sinuses are in the cheekbones on either side of the nose
  • Ethmoid sinuses are beside the upper nose, between the eyes
  • Sphenoid sinuses are behind the nose, in the center of the skull

What Is the Nasal Cavity?

The nose opens into the nasal cavity, divided into two nasal passages. Air moves through these passages during breathing. The nasal cavity lies above the bone that forms the roof of the mouth and curves down at the back to join the throat.

The area just inside the nostrils is called the nasal vestibule. A small area of special cells in the roof of each nasal passage sends signals to the brain to give the sense of smell.

Together, the paranasal sinuses and nasal cavity function to filter, warm, and moisten inhaled air before it goes into the lungs. The movement of air through the sinuses and other parts of the respiratory system also help make sounds for talking.

Types of Paranasal Sinus & Nasal Cavity Cancer

The most common type is squamous cell carcinoma. This type of cancer forms in the squamous cells (thin, flat cells) lining the inside of the paranasal sinuses and the nasal cavity.

Other types of paranasal sinus and nasal cavity cancer include:

  • Melanoma: Cancer that starts in cells called melanocytes, the cells that give skin its natural color.
  • Sarcoma: Cancer that starts in muscle or connective tissue.
  • Inverting papilloma: Benign tumors that form inside the nose. A small number of these change into cancer.
  • Midline granulomas: Cancer of tissues in the middle part of the face.

Who's at Risk for Developing Nasal & Sinus Cancer?

Risk factors for paranasal sinus and nasal cavity cancer include:

  • Being exposed to certain workplace chemicals or dust, such as those found in the following jobs:
    • Furniture-making
    • Sawmill work
    • Woodworking (carpentry)
    • Shoemaking
    • Metal-plating
    • Flour mill or bakery work
  • Being infected with human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Being male and older than 40 years
  • Smoking

Nasal & Sinus Cancer Symptoms 

Check with your doctor if you have any of the following problems:

  • Blocked sinuses that do not clear, or sinus pressure
  • Headaches or pain in the sinus areas
  • A runny nose
  • Nosebleeds
  • A lump or sore inside the nose that does not heal
  • A lump on the face or roof of the mouth
  • Numbness or tingling in the face
  • Swelling or other trouble with the eyes, such as double vision or the eyes pointing in different directions
  • Pain in the upper teeth, loose teeth, or dentures that no longer fit well
  • Pain or pressure in the ear

How We Diagnosis Cancer

The sooner we find your cancer, the better we can treat it. We may use the following tests and procedures:

  • Physical exam of the nose, face, and neck
  • CT or CAT scan (computed tomography scan) 
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
  • PET scan (positron emission tomography scan)
  • Biopsy
  • Endoscopy