Nasal and Sinus Cancer

About the Condition

Nasal and sinus cancer affects the nasal cavity (above the roof of your mouth) and the sinuses (small, air-filled cavities inside your nose, behind your cheekbones and forehead). Nasal and sinus cancer occurs when the genetic material of cells in the nose and/or become damaged or changed, producing mutations that affect normal cell growth and division. The abnormal cells then replicate, causing cancer. If undetected, the cancer can spread beyond the nose and sinus, and move to other parts of the body.

Nasal and sinus cancer is rare in the UK, with only 460 cases diagnosed each year*. This type of cancer is much more common in men than in women, however, though the reasons for this are unclear.

The precise causes of nasal and sinus cancer are unknown, although several factors are known to increase the risk of developing the condition, including:

  • Smoking – the more you smoke, the higher your risk of developing several types of cancer, including nasal and sinus cancer
  • Having previously had radiotherapy to treat hereditary retinoblastoma (a rare type of eye cancer that affects children under five)
  • Exposure to certain substances through work, including wood dust, leather dust, nickel, formaldehyde and cloth fibres
  • Having previously had Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) – a large group of viruses that affect the skin and moist membranes, such as the mouth and throat
  • Having a history of sinus or nose problems
  • A previous diagnosis of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (cancer of the lymphatic system)



The most common symptoms of nasal and sinus cancer are similar to viral or bacterial infections, such as the common cold or sinusitis, and include:

  • a persistent blocked nose, which usually only affects one side – up to 90% of people with nasal or sinus cancer experience a blockage
  • nosebleeds (epistaxis)
  • a decreased sense of smell
  • mucus running from the nose or down the throat

Other symptoms often appear at a later stage, and include:

  • pain or numbness in the face, particularly the cheek or above the eye
  • enlarged lymph nodes in the neck
  • partial loss of vision or double vision
  • a bulging eye (proptosis)
  • severe headaches


If any of these symptoms apply to you, or if you have any concerns about similar symptoms, it is essential that you see your doctor at once, as your chances of recovery are much higher if your cancer is diagnosed early.



If you’re referred to CCL for diagnosis, your consultant or oncologist will advise you on which tests are relevant to your individual symptoms. Tests to diagnose nasal and sinus cancer include:

  • A Nasendoscopy, which is where a thin, flexible telescope (endoscope) is inserted up your nose and passed down your throat to look for any abnormalities, as this can be uncomfortable local anaesthetic can be used to numb your nose and throat
  • A Computerised Tomography (CT) scan, which shows a 3D image of the area being looked at
  • A Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan, which is a procedure that uses a magnet, radio waves, and a computer to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body
  • An X-ray, which is when low level radiation is used to create an image of the body
  • A biopsy, where cell samples are taken for examination for signs of cancer, usually during an endoscopy
  • A Fine Needle Aspiration (FNA) where a of tissue is taken from a lump, using a very thin needle



At CCL, patients with nasal and sinus cancer are treated by a team of different specialists, called a Multi-Disciplinary Team, or MDT. This team works together to create a treatment plan to suit the individual needs of the patient. The best treatment for nasal and sinus cancer depends on several factors, including the stage of your cancer and your general health.

Treatment usually includes a combination of:

  • Surgery to remove a tumour – which can be performed using surgical incisions (open surgery) or as keyhole surgery through the nose (endoscopic microsurgery)
  • Radiotherapy, which is where high-energy rays are used to destroy the cancer cells
  • Chemotherapy, which involves the use of chemical agents which are toxic to cancer cells, destroying them and preventing them from spreading to different areas. This can be given by injection or in tablet form


Both radiotherapy and chemotherapy can be used before surgery, to shrink the tumour before it is removed, or after surgery to improve patient outcome and lower chances of recurrence. Radiotherapy and chemotherapy can also be used to treat nasal and sinus cancer, without any form of surgery.

Other treatments include:

  • Biotherapy, which is the use of newer and more targeted therapies to assist the body in fighting the disease


Support Services

Cancer doesn’t just leave a physical impact on an individual, it can have a huge emotional effect as well. Cancer and its treatment can be overwhelming, causing a wide variety of emotions, and it is important to remember that there is no right or wrong response. Reactions vary hugely from person to person, and most people find that it becomes easier to cope when they’re given additional support, so that’s what we do.

At CCL we provide support that caters to both the physical and emotional needs of the patient, before, during and after treatment. We offer a wide range of services for patients, as well as their loved ones, designed to make a very difficult time as easy as possible, and to give our patients the best treatment and support possible.