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

Nasal and sinus cancer symptoms

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
  • 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.

Nasal and sinus cancer 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:

  • Nasendoscopy: a thin, flexible telescope (endoscope) is inserted up your nose and passed down your throat to look for any abnormalities
  • CT scan
  • MRI scan
  • X-ray
  • Biopsy: where cell samples are taken for examination
  • Fine Needle Aspiration: a piece of tissue is taken from a lump, using a very thin needle

Nasal and sinus cancer treatment

patients with nasal and sinus cancer are treated by a specialist multidisciplinary team. 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 a keyhole surgery through the nose (endoscopic microsurgery)
  • Radiotherapy: high-energy rays are used to destroy the cancer cells
  • Chemotherapy: chemical agents are used to destroy the cancer cells preventing them from spreading to different areas

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: the use of newer and more targeted therapies to assist the body in fighting the disease