National Cancer Institute


Posted Date: Aug 31, 2013

Expert-reviewed information summary about the treatment of paranasal sinus and nasal cavity cancer.

Paranasal Sinus and Nasal Cavity Cancer Treatment

General Information About Paranasal Sinus and Nasal Cavity Cancer

Key Points for this Section

  • Paranasal sinus and nasal cavity cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the paranasal sinuses and nasal cavity.
  • Different types of cells in the paranasal sinus and nasal cavity may become malignant.
  • Being exposed to certain chemicals or dust in the workplace can increase the risk of paranasal sinus and nasal cavity cancer.
  • Possible signs of paranasal sinus and nasal cavity cancer include sinus problems and nosebleeds.
  • Tests that examine the sinuses and nasal cavity are used to detect (find) and diagnose paranasal sinus and nasal cavity cancer.
  • Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options.

Paranasal sinus and nasal cavity cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the paranasal sinuses and nasal cavity.

Paranasal sinuses

"Paranasal" means near the nose. The paranasal sinuses are hollow, air-filled spaces in the bones around the nose. The sinuses are lined with cells that make mucus, which keeps the inside of the nose from drying out during breathing.

Anatomy of the paranasal sinuses; drawing shows front and side views of the frontal sinus, ethmoid sinus, maxillary sinus, and sphenoid sinus. The nasal cavity and pharynx (throat) are also shown.
Anatomy of the paranasal sinuses (spaces between the bones around the nose).

There are several paranasal sinuses named after the bones that surround them:

Nasal cavity

The nose opens into the nasal cavity, which is divided into two nasal passages. Air moves through these passages during breathing. The nasal cavity lies above the bone that forms the roof of the mouth and curves down at the back to join the throat. The area just inside the nostrils is called the nasal vestibule. A small area of special cells in the roof of each nasal passage sends signals to the brain to give the sense of smell.

Together the paranasal sinuses and the nasal cavity filter and warm the air, and make it moist before it goes into the lungs. The movement of air through the sinuses and other parts of the respiratory system help make sounds for talking.

Paranasal sinus and nasal cavity cancer is a type of head and neck cancer.

Different types of cells in the paranasal sinus and nasal cavity may become malignant.

The most common type of paranasal sinus and nasal cavity cancer is squamous cell carcinoma. This type of cancer forms in the squamous cells (thin, flat cells) lining the inside of the paranasal sinuses and the nasal cavity.

Other types of paranasal sinus and nasal cavity cancer include the following:

Being exposed to certain chemicals or dust in the workplace can increase the risk of paranasal sinus and nasal cavity cancer.

Anything that increases your chance of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn’t mean that you will not get cancer. Talk with your doctor if you think you may be at risk. Risk factors for paranasal sinus and nasal cavity cancer include the following:

  • Being exposed to certain workplace chemicals or dust, such as those found in the following jobs:Furniture-making.Sawmill work.Woodworking (carpentry).Shoemaking.Metal-plating.Flour mill or bakery work.
  • Being infected with human papillomavirus (HPV).
  • Being male and older than 40 years.
  • Smoking.

Possible signs of paranasal sinus and nasal cavity cancer include sinus problems and nosebleeds.

These and other symptoms may be caused by paranasal sinus and nasal cavity cancer. Other conditions may cause the same symptoms. There may be no symptoms in the early stages. Symptoms may appear as the tumor grows. Check with your doctor if you have any of the following problems:

  • Blocked sinuses that do not clear, or sinus pressure.
  • Headaches or pain in the sinus areas.
  • A runny nose.
  • Nosebleeds.
  • A lump or sore inside the nose that does not heal.
  • A lump on the face or roof of the mouth.
  • Numbness or tingling in the face.
  • Swelling or other trouble with the eyes, such as double vision or the eyes pointing in different directions.
  • Pain in the upper teeth, loose teeth, or dentures that no longer fit well.
  • Pain or pressure in the ear.

Tests that examine the sinuses and nasal cavity are used to detect (find) and diagnose paranasal sinus and nasal cavity cancer.

The following tests and procedures may be used:

  • Physical exam and history: An exam of the body to check general signs of health, including checking for signs of disease, such as lumps or anything else that seems unusual. A history of the patient’s health habits and past illnesses and treatments will also be taken.
  • Physical exam of the nose, face, and neck: An exam in which the doctor looks into the nose with a small, long-handled mirror to check for abnormal areas and checks the face and neck for lumps or swollen lymph nodes.
  • X-rays of the head and neck: An x-ray is a type of energy beam that can go through the body and onto film, making a picture of areas inside the body.
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging): A procedure that uses a magnet, radio waves, and a computer to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body. This procedure is also called nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (NMRI).
  • Biopsy: The removal of cells or tissues so they can be viewed under a microscope by a pathologist to check for signs of cancer. There are three types of biopsy:Fine-needle aspiration (FNA) biopsy: The removal of tissue or fluid using a thin needle.Incisional biopsy: The removal of part of an area of tissue that doesn’t look normal. Excisional biopsy: The removal of an entire area of tissue that doesn’t look normal.
  • Nasoscopy: A procedure to look inside the nose for abnormal areas. A nasoscope is inserted into the nose. A nasoscope is a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing. A special tool on the nasoscope may be used to remove samples of tissue. The tissues samples are viewed under a microscope by a pathologist to check for signs of cancer.
  • Laryngoscopy: A procedure to look at the larynx (voice box) for abnormal areas. A mirror or a laryngoscope (a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing) is inserted through the mouth to see the larynx. A special tool on the laryngoscope may be used to remove samples of tissue. The tissue samples are viewed under a microscope by a pathologist to check for signs of cancer.

Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options.

The prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options depend on the following:

  • Where the tumor is in the paranasal sinus or nasal cavity and whether it has spread.
  • The size of the tumor.
  • The type of cancer.
  • The patient's age and general health.
  • Whether the cancer has just been diagnosed or has recurred (come back).

Paranasal sinus and nasal cavity cancers often have spread by the time they are diagnosed and are hard to cure. After treatment, a lifetime of frequent and careful follow-up is important because there is an increased risk of developing a second kind of cancer in the head or neck.

Stages of Paranasal Sinus and Nasal Cavity Cancer

Key Points for this Section

  • After paranasal sinus and nasal cavity cancer has been diagnosed, tests are done to find out if cancer cells have spread within the paranasal sinuses and nasal cavity or to other parts of the body.
  • There are three ways that cancer spreads in the body.
  • There is no standard staging system for cancer of the sphenoid and frontal sinuses.
  • The following stages are used for cancer:
    • Stage 0 (Carcinoma in Situ)
    • Stage I
    • Stage II
    • Stage III
    • Stage IV
  • The following stages are used for cancer:
    • Stage 0 (Carcinoma in Situ)
    • Stage I
    • Stage II
    • Stage III
    • Stage IV

After paranasal sinus and nasal cavity cancer has been diagnosed, tests are done to find out if cancer cells have spread within the paranasal sinuses and nasal cavity or to other parts of the body.

The process used to find out if cancer has spread within the para nasal sinuses and nasal cavity or to other parts of the body is called staging. The information gathered from the staging process determines the stage of the disease. It is important to know the stage in order to plan treatment. The following tests and procedures may be used in the staging process:

  • Endoscopy: A procedure to look at organs and tissues inside the body to check for abnormal areas. An endoscope is inserted through an opening in the body, such as the nose or mouth. An endoscope is a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing. It may also have a tool to remove tissue or lymph node samples, which are checked under a microscope for signs of disease.
  • CT scan (CAT scan): A procedure that makes a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body, taken from different angles. The pictures are made by a computer linked to an x-ray machine. A dye may be injected into a vein or swallowed to help the organs or tissues show up more clearly. This procedure is also called computed tomography, computerized tomography, or computerized axial tomography.
  • Chest x-ray: An x-ray of the organs and bones inside the chest. An x-ray is a type of energy beam that can go through the body and onto film, making a picture of areas inside the body.
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) with gadolinium: A procedure that uses a magnet, radio waves, and a computer to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body. Sometimes a substance called gadolinium is injected into a vein. The gadolinium collects around the cancer cells so they show up brighter in the picture. This procedure is also called nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (NMRI).
  • PET scan (positron emission tomography scan): A procedure to find malignant tumor cells in the body. A small amount of radioactive glucose (sugar) is injected into a vein. The PET scanner rotates around the body and makes a picture of where glucose is being used in the body. Malignant tumor cells show up brighter in the picture because they are more active and take up more glucose than normal cells do.
  • Bone scan: A procedure to check if there are rapidly dividing cells, such as cancer cells, in the bone. A very small amount of radioactive material is injected into a vein and travels through the bloodstream. The radioactive material collects in the bones and is detected by a scanner.

There are three ways that cancer spreads in the body.

The three ways that cancer spreads in the body are:

  • Through tissue. Cancer invades the surrounding normal tissue.
  • Through the lymph system. Cancer invades the lymph system and travels through the lymph vessels to other places in the body.
  • Through the blood. Cancer invades the veins and capillaries and travels through the blood to other places in the body.

When cancer cells break away from the primary (original) tumor and travel through the lymph or blood to other places in the body, another (secondary) tumor may form. This process is called metastasis. The secondary (metastatic) tumor is the same type of cancer as the primary tumor. For example, if breast cancer spreads to the bones, the cancer cells in the bones are actually breast cancer cells. The disease is metastatic breast cancer, not bone cancer.

There is no standard staging system for cancer of the sphenoid and frontal sinuses.

The following stages are used for cancer:

Stage 0 (Carcinoma in Situ)

In stage 0, abnormal cells are found in the innermost lining of the maxillary sinus. These abnormal cells may become cancer and spread into nearby normal tissue. Stage 0 is also called carcinoma in situ.

Stage I

In stage I, cancer has formed in the mucous membranes of the maxillary sinus.

Stage II

In stage II, cancer has spread to bone around the maxillary sinus, including the roof of the mouth and the nose, but not to bone at the back of the maxillary sinus or the base of the skull.

Stage III

In stage III, cancer has spread to any of the following:

or

Cancer has spread to one lymph node on the same side of the neck as the cancer and the lymph node is 3 centimeters or smaller. Cancer has also spread to any of the following:

  • The lining of the maxillary sinus.
  • Bones around the maxillary sinus, including the roof of the mouth and the nose.
  • Tissues under the skin.
  • The eye socket.
  • The base of the skull.
  • The ethmoid sinuses.

Stage IV

Stage IV is divided into stage IVA, IVB, and IVC.

The following stages are used for cancer:

Stage 0 (Carcinoma in Situ)

In stage 0, abnormal cells are found in the innermost lining of the nasal cavity or ethmoid sinus. These abnormal cells may become cancer and spread into nearby normal tissue. Stage 0 is also called carcinoma in situ.

Stage I

In stage I, cancer has formed and is found in only one area (of either the nasal cavity or the ethmoid sinus) and may have spread into bone.

Stage II

In stage II, cancer is found in two areas (of either the nasal cavity or the ethmoid sinus) that are near each other or has spread to an area next to the sinuses. Cancer may also have spread into bone.

Stage III

In stage III, cancer has spread to any of the following:

  • The eye socket.
  • The maxillary sinus.
  • The roof of the mouth.
  • The bone between the eyes.

or

Cancer has spread to one lymph node on the same side of the neck as the cancer and the lymph node is 3 centimeters or smaller. Cancer has also spread to any of the following:

Stage IV

Stage IV is divided into stage IVA, IVB, and IVC.

Recurrent Paranasal Sinus and Nasal Cavity Cancer

Recurrent paranasal sinus and nasal cavity cancer is cancer that has recurred (come back) after it has been treated. The cancer may come back in the paranasal sinuses and nasal cavity or in other parts of the body.

Treatment Option Overview

Key Points for this Section

  • There are different types of treatment for patients with paranasal sinus and nasal cavity cancer.
  • Patients with paranasal sinus and nasal cavity cancer should have their treatment planned by a team of doctors with expertise in treating head and neck cancer.
  • Three types of standard treatment are used:
    • Surgery
    • Radiation therapy
    • Chemotherapy
  • New types of treatment are being tested in clinical trials.
  • Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial.
  • Patients can enter clinical trials before, during, or after starting their cancer treatment.
  • Follow-up tests may be needed.

There are different types of treatment for patients with paranasal sinus and nasal cavity cancer.

Different types of treatment are available for patients with paranasal sinus and nasal cavity cancer. Some treatments are standard (the currently used treatment), and some are being tested in clinical trials. A treatment clinical trial is a research study meant to help improve current treatments or obtain information on new treatments for patients with cancer. When clinical trials show that a new treatment is better than the standard treatment, the new treatment may become the standard treatment. Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.

Patients with paranasal sinus and nasal cavity cancer should have their treatment planned by a team of doctors with expertise in treating head and neck cancer.

Treatment will be overseen by a medical oncologist, a doctor who specializes in treating people with cancer. The medical oncologist works with other doctors who are experts in treating patients with head and neck cancer and who specialize in certain areas of medicine and rehabilitation. Patients who have para nasal sinus and nasal cavity cancer may need special help adjusting to breathing problems or other side effects of the cancer and its treatment. If a large amount of tissue or bone around the paranasal sinuses or nasal cavity is taken out, plastic surgery may be done to repair or rebuild the area. The treatment team may include the following specialists:

Three types of standard treatment are used:

Surgery

Surgery (removing the cancer in an operation) is a common treatment for all stages of paranasal sinus and nasal cavity cancer. A doctor may remove the cancer and some of the healthy tissue and bone around the cancer. If the cancer has spread, the doctor may remove lymph nodes and other tissues in the neck.

Even if the doctor removes all the cancer that can be seen at the time of the surgery, some patients may be given chemotherapy or radiation therapy after surgery to kill any cancer cells that are left. Treatment given after surgery, to lower the risk that the cancer will come back, is called adjuvant therapy.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. There are two types of radiation therapy. External radiation therapy uses a machine outside the body to send radiation toward the cancer. The total dose of radiation therapy is sometimes divided into several smaller, equal doses delivered over a period of several days. This is called fractionation. Internal radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters that are placed directly into or near the cancer. The way the radiation therapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.

External radiation therapy to the thyroid or the pituitary gland may change the way the thyroid gland works. The thyroid gland may be tested before and after treatment.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body ( systemic chemotherapy). When chemotherapy is placed directly into the cerebrospinal fluid, an organ, or a body cavity such as the abdomen, the drugs mainly affect cancer cells in those areas ( regional chemotherapy). Combination chemotherapy is treatment using more than one anticancer drug.

The way the chemotherapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.

See Drugs Approved for Head and Neck Cancer for more information. (Paranasal sinus and nasal cavity cancer is a type of head and neck cancer.)

New types of treatment are being tested in clinical trials.

Information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.

Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial.

For some patients, taking part in a clinical trial may be the best treatment choice. Clinical trials are part of the cancer research process. Clinical trials are done to find out if new cancer treatments are safe and effective or better than the standard treatment.

Many of today's standard treatments for cancer are based on earlier clinical trials. Patients who take part in a clinical trial may receive the standard treatment or be among the first to receive a new treatment.

Patients who take part in clinical trials also help improve the way cancer will be treated in the future. Even when clinical trials do not lead to effective new treatments, they often answer important questions and help move research forward.

Patients can enter clinical trials before, during, or after starting their cancer treatment.

Some clinical trials only include patients who have not yet received treatment. Other trials test treatments for patients whose cancer has not gotten better. There are also clinical trials that test new ways to stop cancer from recurring (coming back) or reduce the side effects of cancer treatment.

Clinical trials are taking place in many parts of the country. See the Treatment Options section that follows for links to current treatment clinical trials. These have been retrieved from NCI's listing of clinical trials.

Follow-up tests may be needed.

Some of the tests that were done to diagnose the cancer or to find out the stage of the cancer may be repeated. Some tests will be repeated in order to see how well the treatment is working. Decisions about whether to continue, change, or stop treatment may be based on the results of these tests. This is sometimes called re-staging.

Some of the tests will continue to be done from time to time after treatment has ended. The results of these tests can show if your condition has changed or if the cancer has recurred (come back). These tests are sometimes called follow-up tests or check-ups.

Treatment Options by Stage

A link to a list of current clinical trials is included for each treatment section. For some types or stages of cancer, there may not be any trials listed. Check with your doctor for clinical trials that are not listed here but may be right for you.

Stage I Paranasal Sinus and Nasal Cavity Cancer

Treatment of stage I para nasal sinus and nasal cavity cancer depends on where cancer is found in the paranasal sinuses and nasal cavity:

  • If cancer is in the maxillary sinus, treatment is usually surgery with or without radiation therapy.
  • If cancer is in the ethmoid sinus, treatment is usually radiation therapy and/or surgery.
  • If cancer is in the sphenoid sinus, treatment is the same as for nasopharyngeal cancer, usually radiation therapy. (See the PDQ summary on Nasopharyngeal Cancer Treatment for more information.)
  • If cancer is in the nasal cavity, treatment is usually surgery and/or radiation therapy.
  • If cancer is in the nasal vestibule, treatment is usually surgery or radiation therapy.
  • For inverting papilloma, treatment is usually surgery with or without radiation therapy.
  • For melanoma and sarcoma, treatment is usually surgery with or without radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
  • For midline granuloma, treatment is usually radiation therapy.

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with stage I paranasal sinus and nasal cavity cancer. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.

Stage II Paranasal Sinus and Nasal Cavity Cancer

Treatment of stage II para nasal sinus and nasal cavity cancer depends on where cancer is found in the paranasal sinuses and nasal cavity:

  • If cancer is in the maxillary sinus, treatment is usually high-dose radiation therapy before or after surgery.
  • If cancer is in the ethmoid sinus, treatment is usually radiation therapy and/or surgery.
  • If cancer is in the sphenoid sinus, treatment is the same as for nasopharyngeal cancer, usually radiation therapy with or without chemotherapy. (See the PDQ summary on Nasopharyngeal Cancer Treatment for more information.)
  • If cancer is in the nasal cavity, treatment is usually surgery and/or radiation therapy.
  • If cancer is in the nasal vestibule, treatment is usually surgery or radiation therapy.
  • For inverting papilloma, treatment is usually surgery with or without radiation therapy.
  • For melanoma and sarcoma, treatment is usually surgery with or without radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
  • For midline granuloma, treatment is usually radiation therapy.

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with stage II paranasal sinus and nasal cavity cancer. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.

Stage III Paranasal Sinus and Nasal Cavity Cancer

Treatment of stage III para nasal sinus and nasal cavity cancer depends on where cancer is found in the paranasal sinuses and nasal cavity.

If cancer is in the maxillary sinus, treatment may include the following:

If cancer is in the ethmoid sinus, treatment may include the following:

If cancer is in the sphenoid sinus, treatment is the same as for nasopharyngeal cancer, usually radiation therapy with or without chemotherapy. (See the PDQ summary on Nasopharyngeal Cancer Treatment for more information.)

If cancer is in the nasal cavity, treatment may include the following:

  • Surgery and/or radiation therapy.
  • Chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
  • A clinical trial of combination chemotherapy before surgery or radiation therapy.
  • A clinical trial of combination chemotherapy after surgery or other cancer treatment.

For inverting papilloma, treatment is usually surgery with or without radiation therapy.

For melanoma and sarcoma, treatment may include the following:

  • Surgery.
  • Radiation therapy.
  • Surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.

For midline granuloma, treatment is usually radiation therapy.

If cancer is in the nasal vestibule, treatment may include the following:

  • External radiation therapy and/or internal radiation therapy with or without surgery.
  • A clinical trial of combination chemotherapy before surgery or radiation therapy.
  • A clinical trial of combination chemotherapy after surgery or other cancer treatment.

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with stage III paranasal sinus and nasal cavity cancer. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.

Stage IV Paranasal Sinus and Nasal Cavity Cancer

Treatment of stage IV para nasal sinus and nasal cavity cancer depends on where cancer is found in the


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