Nasal and sinus cancer
About 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.
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
- 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:
- pain or numbness in the face
- swollen glands in the neck
- partial loss of vision or double vision
- a bulging or persistently watering eye
- a lump or growth on your face, nose or roof of your mouth
When to speak to your GP
Speak to 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 computerised tomography (CT) scan and a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan
- a 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
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has produced a report on the risk of occupational nasal and sinus cancer in Great Britain (PDF, 2Mb).
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
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.
02 February 2023
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