What is nasal and sinus cancer?

Nasal and sinus cancer are rare types of head and neck cancer that develop inside the nose or paranasal sinuses.

We have more information on the sinuses.

Symptoms of nasal and sinus cancer

The most common symptoms of nasal and sinus cancer include a blocked nose that does not clear and nosebleeds.

If you are worried about nasal and sinus cancer, we have more information about the signs and symptoms.

Causes of nasal and sinus cancer

Doctors do not know the exact causes of nasal and sinus cancer. But there are risk factors that can increase your chance of developing it.

It is more common in people who handle or breathe in certain chemicals or dust for many years because of their job. These include wood dust, chromium, nickel, formaldehyde, leather dust and mineral oils.

Smoking tobacco may also increase the risk of nasal and sinus cancer.

We have more information about the causes and risk factors of head and neck cancer.

Diagnosis of nasal and sinus cancers

You usually start by seeing your GP. They will examine your face, eyes, ears and mouth.

They will refer you to a specialist doctor if:

  • they think that your symptoms could be caused by cancer
  • they are not sure what the problem is.

The specialist doctor will ask you about your symptoms and general health. You may have some of the following tests:

  • Nasendoscopy

    A nasendoscopy is used to look at the back of your mouth, nose, pharynx and larynx.

  • Biopsy

    The doctor collects samples (biopsies) of cells or tissue from the area that looks abnormal. A doctor who specialises in analysing cells (called a pathologist) looks at the sample under a microscope for cancer cells.

Waiting for test results can be a difficult time, we have more information that can help.

Further tests for nasal and sinus cancer

These tests may be used to help diagnose nasal and sinus cancer or to check whether it has spread.

  • X-rays

    X-rays are used to take pictures of the inside of your body. It is not painful and only takes a few minutes.

  • CT scan

    A CT scan uses x-rays to build a three-dimensional (3D) picture of the inside of the body.

  • MRI scan

    An MRI scan uses magnetism to build up a detailed picture of areas of your body.

Staging and grading of nasal and sinus cancer

The results of your tests helps your doctors find out more about the size and position of the cancer and whether it has spread. This is called staging.

A doctor decides the grade of the cancer by how the cancer cells look under the microscope. This gives an idea of how quickly the cancer might grow or spread.

Knowing the stage and grade helps your doctors plan the best treatment for you.

Treatment for nasal and sinus cancer

A team of specialists will meet to discuss the best possible treatment for you. This is called a multidisciplinary team (MDT).

Your doctor will explain the different treatments and their side effects. They will also talk to you about the things you should consider when making treatment decisions.

Treatment for nasal and sinus cancer may include:

  • Surgery

    Surgery is usually the main treatment for nasal and sinus cancer.

  • Radiotherapy

    Radiotherapy uses high-energy rays to destroy cancer cells. It may be given after surgery to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back. It may also be used before surgery to shrink a tumour, or as the main treatment if surgery is not possible. Radiotherapy can be given in combination with chemotherapy. This is called chemoradiation.

  • Chemotherapy

    Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer drugs to destroy cancer cells. It may be given with radiotherapy (chemoradiation). It can also be given on its own before surgery or chemoradiation. Chemotherapy is also used to treat nasal and sinus cancer that has come back or spread.

  • Chemoradiation

    Chemoradiation is when you have chemotherapy and radiotherapy together. Chemotherapy can make the cancer cells more sensitive to radiotherapy treatment.

We have more information about

You may also have some treatments as part of a clinical trial.

After nasal and sinus cancer treatment

You have regular follow-up appointments after treatment. You may also have regular follow-up appointments with a speech and language therapist (SLT), dietitian, restorative dentist and dental hygienist.

If you have any problems or notice new symptoms between appointments, let your doctor know as soon as possible.

Sex life and fertility

Head and neck cancer and its treatment can sometimes affect your sex life and fertility.

If you are worried about this, it is important to talk with your doctor before you start treatment.

We have more information about:

Late effects

Some side effects that develop during treatment may take a long time to improve, or may sometimes become permanent. These are called long-term effects. Other effects can develop months or even years after treatment has finished. These are known as late effects. We have more information about long-term and late effects of head and neck cancer treatment.

Well-being and recovery

Even if you already have a healthy lifestyle, you may choose to make some positive lifestyle changes after treatment.

Making small changes to the way you live such as eating well and keeping active can improve your health and well-being and help your body recover.

It can be difficult to eat well after treatment for head and neck cancer, but your dietitian can help you.

Your feelings after head and neck cancer treatment

For some people, it takes several months to recover from treatment. It can be hard to cope if treatment has changed your appearance, voice or how you eat and drink. It is common to feel overwhelmed by different feelings.

There are national support groups that you may find helpful:

  • The Mouth Cancer Foundation

    The Mouth Cancer Foundation gives information and support to people affected by head and neck cancers.

  • Changing Faces

    Changing Faces offers advice and information to anyone who is affected by a change in their appearance.

Macmillan is also here to support you. If you would like to talk, you can:

About our information

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editor, Dr Chris Alcock, Consultant Clinical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

Reviewed: 31 January 2018
Reviewed: 31/01/2018
Next review: 31 July 2021
Next review: 31/07/2021

This content is currently being reviewed. New information will be coming soon.