Nasal & Sinus Cancer

What Is Nasal and Sinus Cancer?

Nasal and sinus cancers are malignant growths that develop in the passageways of the nose or in the air-filled cavities behind the nose – the paranasal sinuses. Like other diseases of this type, nasal and sinus cancers consist of abnormal cells that reproduce at an accelerated rate, forming tumors and eventually overwhelming the healthy cells around them. They’re also a threat for metastasizing – spreading to other parts of the body. There are several types of nasal and sinus cancers, including squamous cell carcinomas, melanomas, sarcomas, inverting papillomas, and midline granulomas. These vary in degree of risk and how they respond to treatment.

Nasal and sinus cancers are relatively rare, with about 2,000 new cases diagnosed each year, usually in males age 55 or older. Nevertheless, if left unchecked, they can pose a serious health threat. The outlook of someone with one of these conditions will depend on a variety of factors, including age, overall health condition, the type of cancer involved, its stage of development, and whether the cancer has metastasized (spread to other parts of the body). If you or a loved one is exhibiting nasal- or sinus-cancer symptoms, the oncologists and other caring professionals at Baptist Health can help

What Are the Symptoms of Nasal and Sinus Cancer?

There are a variety of symptoms associated with nasal and sinus cancers:

  • Nasal drip or nosebleeds
  • Difficulty breathing through the nose
  • Poor sense of smell
  • Facial pain
  • Lumps on the face or neck
  • Lesions in the mouth
  • Watery eyes
  • Vision issues

Symptoms vary somewhat because the cancers themselves vary. The major types of nasal and sinus cancer are:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma: This is one of the most common forms of cancer. It originates in the flat and scale-like cells that form the surface of numerous bodily structures, including the nasal passages and sinus cavities. 
  • Melanomas: Melanomas are cancers that develop in the melanocytes, or pigment-producing cells.
  • Sarcomas: Sarcomas are cancers of the muscle or connective tissues. 
  • Inverting papillomas: Papillomas are nasal tumors. Most are benign but some turn malignant. 
  • Midline granulomas: These are cancers that form in the midface. 

What Causes Nasal and Sinus Cancer? 

The cause or causes of nasal and sinus cancers are unclear but scientists suspect that damage to cell DNA might play a role. Since cancer cells reproduce more rapidly than healthy cells, genes controlling growth are those most likely affected: oncogenes, which spur cell division, and tumor suppressor genes, which help switch off cells at the end of a normal lifespan. 

Risk factors for nasal and sinus cancer include:

  • Smoking and tobacco use: Smoke irritates the cells lining the nasal and sinus cavities. 
  • Age and sex: Middle-aged men are the most frequently diagnosed group for these cancers. 
  • Workplace environments: Dust, fumes, and harsh chemicals can aggravate the sensitive linings of the nose and paranasal sinuses. 
  • Human papilloma virus (HPV): HPV has been linked to an increased likelihood of developing these cancers. 

How Is Nasal and Sinus Cancer Diagnosed?

Nasal and sinus cancers are diagnosed in the following manner:

  • Physical exam: Your doctor will look you over for evidence of a cancerous growth. He or she will document your symptoms and ask questions about your medical history. 
  • Medical imaging: CT scans and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans can help locate cancerous masses in the nasal passages or sinus cavities.
  • Endoscopy: An endoscope is a tiny camera with a light that a physician inserts into your nasal or sinus cavities by means of a long flexible tube. He or she uses this camera to inspect for evidence of a medical condition. Though not a surgical procedure, endoscopy typically requires some type of anesthesia.
  • Biopsy: To verify a diagnosis of cancer, your physician may conduct a biopsy. He or she will collect a tissue sample, either by incision or needle insertion, or as part of a surgical procedure. This sample will be analyzed for evidence of disease.

If you’ve developed a sinus or nasal cancer, your physician or oncologist will assess its stage of development. He or she will determine the size and disposition of your tumors, and the overall prevalence of cancer within your body. Cancer stages are generally rated from 0 to 4, with stage 4 being the most advanced version of the disease.

How Is Nasal and Sinus Cancer Treated?

The treatment of nasal and sinus cancers depends on a number of factors, including the specific disease involved, your age, the cancer’s stage of development, and where it is present in the body:

  • Surgery: Removing a tumor by surgery is the most common form of treatment for these cancers. Your surgeon will either make an incision in your nose or mouth, or conduct the procedure endoscopically. Surgery is sometimes combined with other forms of cancer treatment, including radiation and chemotherapy. 
  • Radiation therapy: Oncologists use radiation therapy to kill cancer cells in a specific area.
  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is an effective means of killing cancer cells that have spread from their place of origin. 
  • Palliative care: Palliative care is often required in cases of nasal and sinus cancers. Its focus is on the management and limitation of pain, while making the patient more comfortable during treatment and recovery. Palliative care is provided in addition to curative care, not as a substitute for it. 

Treatment may also involve antibiotics to maintain patient health while the immune system is depleted, and various medications for suppressing the side effects of cancer treatments.

Success depends on a number of factors, including how early or how late the cancer was diagnosed. In general, the earlier the detection, the greater the chance of beating the disease. Individuals who are treated for nasal or sinus cancer require monitoring for a possible recurrence.

How Is Nasal and Sinus Cancer Prevented? 

There are a couple of steps you can take to reduce the possibility of developing a nasal or sinus cancer:

  • Tobacco cessation: Smoking aggravates the mucous membranes where many nasal and sinus cancers develop. You’ll eliminate this risk when you quit using tobacco products.
  • Protect yourself from airborne irritants: Wear a face mask or other forms of protective gear if you’re regularly exposed to harsh fumes, hazardous chemicals, or dust and other particulate matter, whether at work or another location. 

Learn More About Nasal and Sinus Cancer from Baptist Health

Nasal and sinus cancers can be fatal, especially if diagnosed in a later stage of development. The oncologists and other medical experts at Baptist Health are part of your frontline defense against nasal and sinus cancers.

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