Sinus and nasal cavity cancer can form as a tumor (or tumors) in two places: the spaces around your nose where mucus is produced, or the space behind your nose where air passes on its way to your lungs. This rare disease has symptoms that are often confused with other common sinus issues.
What Causes It?
Like many other cancers, sinus and nasal cavity cancer may be linked to damage in the DNA within your cells. Doctors aren’t totally sure this is the case, but they’ve found a number of factors that could harm the cells inside your nose and sinuses. They include:
- Your workplace. If you work in an area where you’re constantly breathing in substances like dust, flour, or chemicals, you could be at higher risk for sinus and nasal cavity cancer.
- Smoking. This increases your risk of developing a number of cancers.
- Your age and gender. Men over the age of 40 are more likely to develop sinus and nasal cavity cancer.
- Human papilloma virus (HPV). In rare cases, this virus can raise your chances of getting sinus and naval cavity cancer.
Remember: These things have been linked to sinus and nasal cavity cancer, but being exposed to them doesn’t mean you’ll develop this disease.
What Are the Symptoms?
There are often no signs of sinus and nasal cavity cancer in the early stages. They tend to develop as your tumor grows. When they do appear, symptoms can look a lot like those of many other sinus-related issues. But the difference with sinus and nasal cavity cancer is that the symptoms don’t go away in time. They include:
- Ongoing congestion that gets worse
- Sinus blockage or pressure
- Sinus headaches
- Runny nose
- Post-nasal drip
- Numbness or pain in your face
- A growth in your nose or mouth or on your face
- Loosening, pain, or numbness of your teeth
- Changes in eye pressure or vision
- Ear pain or pressure
How Do I Know If I Have It?
If you’re experiencing a combination of symptoms that don’t go away over time, see your doctor. They’ll do a physical exam. They’ll ask about your symptoms, medical history, and any related risk factors. If they suspect sinus and nasal cavity cancer, they’ll send you to a specialist for more tests.
They might also order a number of imaging tests to help locate your tumor. These include X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs. These can also help determine if the cancer has spread.
Once your doctor locates your tumor, they’ll do a biopsy. That means he’ll remove a small tissue sample from the tumor and send it to a lab for testing. If you do have cancer, a biopsy can help identify what type and how aggressive it is. Once your doctor knows these things, he’ll be able to decide on the proper treatment plan.
How Is It Treated?
That depends on the type of cancer, where it’s located, and how far it has spread. Your doctor will also consider your age and general health before recommending a treatment plan.
The most common types of treatment for sinus and nasal cavity cancer include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. If the cancer was caught early, you may only need surgery to successfully remove the tumor. If the cancer is growing quickly or has spread, you may need a combination of therapies in addition to, or instead of, surgery.
Each treatment comes with a unique set of side effects. It’s important to speak with your doctor about these and any other medications that might be necessary to relieve side effects.
After treatment, your doctor may order an additional imaging test to make sure your cancer is gone. Once you’re cancer-free, you’ll also need to see your doctor for regular screenings, because your chances of developing another type of head or neck cancer increase.