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Sinus Tumors

< Head, Neck and Skin Cancer

Sinus Tumors

About Sinus Tumors

Nasal and sinus tumors are benign or cancerous tumors that occur in the nose or sinuses. 

Cancerous nasal cavity or sinus tumors are rare, with only about 2,000 being diagnosed in the United States each year. Sixty to 70 percent of these types of tumors occur in the maxillary sinus in the cheek, while 20 to 30 percent are in the nasal cavity and 10 to 15 percent are in the ethmoid sinuses on either side of the nose. Cancer is extremely rare in the sphenoid sinuses behind the ethmoid sinuses and in the frontal sinuses in the forehead.

Several types of cancer can occur in the nasal cavity or the sinuses, including:

  • Adenocarcinoma (about 10 to 20 percent) occurs in the sinus lining.
  • Esthesioneuroblastomas develop from the nerves at the base of the skull, where they enter the nasal cavity and provide a sense of smell.
  • Lymphomas (about 5 percent of such cancers) are caused by cells in the immune or lymphatic system.
  • Melanomas (about 3 percent) arise from cells in the sinus lining that contain pigment and are very aggressive.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma (about 70 percent of such cancers) occurs in the respiratory tract.

There are also several types of noncancerous tumors that, although they do not spread, can cause damage if not treated.

Osteomas usually do not cause any symptoms, but they can impede the frontal, ethmoid or maxillary sinuses. If an osteoma does cause such an obstruction, it needs to be removed surgically.
Viral infections can cause papillomas, wartlike growths in the nose or sinuses. Although about 10 percent are cancerous, most are benign.


Although many sinus or nasal cancers exhibit no symptoms, certain prolonged symptoms may indicate cancer, including:

  • A growth in the face, nose, palate or neck
  • Difficulty hearing
  • Difficulty opening the mouth
  • Double or blurred vision
  • Frequent and persistent nosebleeds
  • Loss of sense of smell or taste
  • Pain in the forehead, cheek, nose or around the eyes or ear
  • Pain or numbness in the face or teeth
  • Persistent nasal congestion, especially on one side
  • Post-nasal drip at the back of the throat
  • Recurrent ear infections
  • Runny eyes

Risk Factors

Men are more likely to get sinus cancer than women.
The most common age for diagnosis of the condition is in the 50s and 60s.
Smoking and tobacco smoke is a major risk factor for nose and sinus cancer, as well as other cancers of the respiratory tract. Exposure to dusts from wood, leather or textiles, as well as inhaling vapors from glue, formaldehyde, solvents, nickel, chromium, rubbing alcohol and radium appears to increase the risk of such cancers. Avoiding exposure to these risk factors can reduce the risk of sinus or nasal cancer, especially avoiding tobacco smoke.