Nasal Cavity and Paranasal Sinus Cancer: Risk Factors and Prevention

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 06/2016

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about the factors that increase the chance of developing these types of cancer and what people can do to lower their risk. To see other pages, use the menu.

A risk factor is anything that increases a person’s chance of developing cancer. Although risk factors often influence the development of cancer, most do not directly cause cancer. Some people with several risk factors never develop cancer, while others with no known risk factors do. However, knowing your risk factors and talking about them with your doctor may help you make more informed lifestyle and health care choices.

There are 2 risk factors that greatly increase the risk of nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer:

  • Tobacco use. Use of tobacco is the single largest risk factor for head and neck cancer. Tobacco products include cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco, and snuff. Eighty-five percent (85%) of head and neck cancer is linked to tobacco use. Secondhand smoke may also increase a person’s risk of developing head and neck cancer.

  • Alcohol. Frequent and heavy consumption of alcohol is a risk factor for head and neck cancer. Using alcohol and tobacco together increases this risk even more.

Other factors can raise a person’s risk of developing nasal cavity or paranasal sinus cancer.

  • Gender. Nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer occurs twice as often in men as in women.

  • Age. Nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer are most commonly found in people between the ages of 45 and 85.

  • Human papillomavirus (HPV). Research shows that infection with this virus is a risk factor for nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer. Sexual activity with someone who has HPV is the most common way someone gets HPV. There are different types of HPV, called strains. Research links some HPV strains more strongly with certain types of cancers. There are vaccines available to protect you from some HPV strains.

  • Specific inhalants. Breathing in certain substances, most commonly found work environments, may increase the risk of developing nasal cavity or paranasal sinus cancer. These substances include:

    • Dust from the wood, textiles, or leather industries

    • Flour dust

    • Nickel dust

    • Chromium dust

    • Mustard gas

    • Asbestos

    • Rubbing alcohol, also called isopropyl alcohol, fumes

    • Radium fumes

    • Glue fumes

    • Formaldehyde fumes

    • Solvent fumes used in furniture and shoe production

  • Exposure to air pollution. Being exposed to air pollution may increase a person’s risk of developing nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer.

  • Marijuana use. Recent research suggests that people who have used marijuana may be at higher risk for head and neck cancer.


Different factors cause different types of cancer. Researchers continue to look into what factors cause these types of cancer. Although there is no proven way to completely prevent nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer, you may be able to lower your risk. Talk with your doctor for more information about your personal risk of cancer.

Stopping the use of all tobacco products is the most important thing a person can do, even for people who have been smoking for many years. Also, avoiding exposure to substances that have been known to increase the risk of cancer may help reduce this risk. Workers should wear a protective facemask to avoid breathing in potentially harmful substances. Workplace exposure and industrial-related hazards can also be reduced with appropriate air filtering. Workers in these areas need to be aware of their potential risk of exposure.

The next section in this guide is Screening. It explains how tests may find cancer before signs or symptoms appear. Or, use the menu to choose another section to continue reading this guide.