About treatment for nasal and sinus cancer

Nasal and sinus cancer is a type of head and neck cancer. Cancers affecting the head and neck are not common. People with this type of cancer are usually treated in specialist centres by a team of specialist healthcare professionals.

Your treatment will depend on:

Your specialist doctor or nurse will explain the best treatment for you and any likely side effects.

The aim is to treat the cancer, while doing as little damage as possible to your nose, mouth and facial appearance. Your specialist doctor or nurse will explain the best treatment for you and any side effects that are likely.

The main treatment for nasal and sinus cancers is usually surgery. Treatments such as radiotherapy and chemotherapy may be given before surgery to shrink a large tumour. Often, they are given after you have had surgery to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back. When chemotherapy and radiotherapy are given together, it is called chemoradiation.

Any of these treatments may also be given to control symptoms of cancer that has spread to other areas of the body.

Surgery

Surgery is used to remove all or as much of the cancer as possible. If it is small and has not spread, the surgeon may be able to remove just the tumour. But sometimes they also need to remove nearby areas of tissue or bone affected by the cancer.

Your surgeon will explain the operation and answer any questions you have. They plan the operation to avoid changing your facial appearance. They also try to avoid damaging areas of the mouth or face that help you talk, swallow, eat or see.

However, sometimes the surgeon advises removing bigger areas and rebuilding them with tissue, skin or bone taken from somewhere else in the body. They may need to do this to remove all of the tumour. If the surgeon removes part of the roof of the mouth, they fit a special piece of plastic (obturator) into the missing area. This covers the gap in the roof of the mouth to help you speak and eat.

Sometimes the surgeon also removes some lymph nodes in the neck. They might do this even if the nodes do not show any signs of cancer. This is to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back.

Your doctor will explain the operation to you beforehand. You will be able to ask any questions you have about it.

We have more information about preparing for surgery and recovering from your operation.

Radiotherapy and chemoradiation

Radiotherapy uses high-energy rays to destroy the cancer cells, while doing as little harm as possible to normal cells.

Usually radiotherapy is given after surgery to reduce the chance of the cancer coming back. This may start about 6 weeks after surgery. It may also be used to treat cancer in the neck or lymph nodes, or to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back in this area.

Radiotherapy or chemoradiation may be given to shrink a tumour before surgery. Or if you cannot have surgery, you may have radiotherapy or chemoradiation as the main treatment for nasal and sinus cancers. Having chemoradiation is more effective than having chemotherapy or radiotherapy alone, but it can cause more severe side effects. It is important that you are well enough to cope with the side effects of having both treatments together.

Radiotherapy may also be used to control symptoms, such as pain, if the cancer has spread to other areas of the body.

You may have side effects during radiotherapy. These usually get better slowly after treatment finishes. 

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. For nasal and sinus cancer, chemotherapy may be given:

  • with radiotherapy (called chemoradiation)
  • alone, before either chemoradiation or surgery
  • to treat cancer that has spread or has come back after earlier treatment.

The chemotherapy drug most often used to treat nasal and sinus cancer is cisplatin. You have this as an infusion (drip) into a vein.

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.