Nasal & Sinus Cavity Cancer

Cancers that form in the tissues of the passageway within your nose are referred to as paranasal sinus and nasal cavity cancers. Nasal cancer begins in the nasal cavity, which is the space directly behind the nose where air passes on its way to the throat. Paranasal cancer begins in the paranasal sinuses  — hollow, air-filled spaces in the bones around the nose. Both are considered types of head and neck cancers.

Several types of nasal and paranasal tumors exist. Your specific type will determine what course of treatment will work best.

Types of Nasal Cavity and Paranasal Sinus Cancers

Within the nasal cavity and paranasal sinuses are tissues that contain several different types of cells that include: 

  • Squamous epithelial cells
  • Minor salivary gland cells
  • Nerve cells
  • Infection-fighting cells called lymphocytes
  • Blood vessel cells

Various types of nasal and sinus cavity cancer can develop from these cells. The most common is squamous cell carcinoma, which forms in the flat cells that line the inside of the nasal area. It accounts for about half of cancers in these areas. 

Other types of nasal cavity and sinus cancer that can develop include: 

  • Adenocarcinoma. This begins in the gland cells. It is the second most common type of nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer. 
  • Sarcoma. Sarcomas develop in the muscle or connective tissue. 
  • Inverting papillomas. These are benign tumors that form inside the nose. A small number (around 10% to 15%) of these change into cancer.
  • Esthesioneuroblastoma. Also called olfactory neuroblastoma, this type of cancer is related to the nerves that control the sense of smell. It occurs on the roof of the nasal cavity and involves the cribriform plate, a bone located deep in the skull between the eyes. This type of cancer can mimic neuroendocrine cancer, so it is important to distinguish between them.
  • Midline granuloma. This refers to a group of several unrelated conditions that cause the breakdown of the healthy tissue found in the middle part of the face. Some cases are due to immune disorders while others are actually a type of lymphoma. 
  • Lymphoma. Lymphoma may develop in the lymph tissue found in the lining of the nasal cavity and paranasal sinuses, called the mucosa.
  • Melanoma. While usually considered a skin cancer, melanomas can also form on the lining of the nasal cavity and sinuses. 

Knowing which cells they come from helps determine how fast the cancer will grow and what type of treatment will be needed. 

Learn more about symptoms and find out how nasal and sinus cavity cancers are diagnosed.

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