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Nasal Cavity and Paranasal Sinus Cancer - Overview

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 08/2014

ON THIS PAGE: You will find some basic information about these diseases and the parts of the body they may affect. This is the first page of Cancer.Net’s Guide to Nasal Cavity and Paranasal Sinus Cancer. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen. Think of that menu as a roadmap to this full guide.

Cancer begins when normal cells in the body change and grow uncontrollably, forming a mass called a tumor. A tumor can be cancerous or benign. A cancerous tumor is malignant, meaning it can spread to other parts of the body. A benign tumor means the tumor will not spread and usually can be removed without growing back.

Nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer are malignant tumors that begin in the inside of the nose or paranasal cavities around the nose. The nasal cavity is the space just behind the nose where air passes on the way to the throat. The paranasal sinuses are air-filled areas that surround the nasal cavity on the cheeks, the maxillary sinuses; above and between the eyes, the ethmoid and frontal sinuses; and behind the ethmoids, the sphenoid sinuses. The maxillary sinus is the most common location of paranasal sinus cancer.

Nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer are two of the major types of cancer in the head and neck region and belong to a group of tumors known as head and neck cancer.

Types of nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer

The nasal cavity and paranasal sinuses contain several types of tissue, and each contains several types of cells. Different cancers can develop from each kind of cell. The differences are important because they determine how fast growing the cancer is and the type of treatment needed.

The nasal cavity and paranasal sinuses are lined by a layer of mucus-producing tissue with the following cell types: squamous epithelial cells, minor salivary gland cells, nerve cells, infection- fighting cells, and blood vessel cells. Some tumor types found in these cells and tissues include the following:

Squamous cell carcinoma. This is the most common type of nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer. Squamous cells are flat cells that make up the thin surface layer of the structures of the head and neck.

Adenocarcinoma. This is the second most common type of nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer. It begins in the gland cells.

Malignant melanoma. This develops from cells called melanocytes that give the skin its color. It is usually an invasive, fast growing cancer; however, it only accounts for about 1% of tumors found in this area of the body. Learn more about melanoma.

Inverting papilloma. These are benign, wart-like growths that may develop into squamous cell carcinoma. Approximately 10% to 15% of these can develop into cancer.

Esthesioneuroblastoma. This type of cancer is related to the nerves that control the sense of smell. It occurs on the roof of the nasal cavity and involves a structure called the cribriform plate, a bone located deep in the skull between the eyes and the sinuses. This type of cancer looks similar to neuroendocrine cancer, so it is important to figure out which one it is.

Midline granuloma. This refers to a group of several unrelated conditions that cause the breakdown of the healthy tissue of the nose, sinuses, and nearby tissues. Some cases are due to immune system problems, and many others are actually a type of lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system carries lymph, a colorless fluid containing a type of white blood cell, called lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are part of the immune system and help fight germs in the body.

Lymphoma. This is a type of cancer that originates in the lymph tissue within the lining of the nasal cavity and paranasal sinuses, called the mucosa.

Sarcoma. Sarcoma is a type of cancer that begins in muscle, connective tissue, or bone.

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Nasal Cavity and Paranasal Sinus Cancer - Statistics

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 08/2014

ON THIS PAGE: You will find information about how many people learn they have this type of cancer each year and some general survival information. Remember, survival rates depend on several factors. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

Both nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer are uncommon. Each year, about 2,000 people are diagnosed with nasal cavity or paranasal sinus cancer in the United States. Cancer of the nasal cavity or paranasal sinus is found more often in men than in women, and it tends to occur in people who are at least 45 years old.

The five-year survival rate is the percentage of people who survive at least five years after the cancer is detected, excluding those who die from other diseases. The five-year survival rate of people with nasal cavity or paranasal sinus cancer varies by stage, as described in the table below. Stage I means the cancer hasn’t spread outside the nasal cavity, and stage IV means the cancer has spread to distant parts of the body. Learn more about staging.

Cancer survival statistics should be interpreted with caution. These estimates are based on data from thousands of people with this type of cancer in the United States each year, but the actual risk for a particular individual may differ. It is not possible to tell a person how long he or she will live with nasal cavity or paranasal sinus cancer. Because the survival statistics are measured in five-year intervals, they may not represent advances made in the treatment or diagnosis of this cancer. Learn more about understanding statistics.

Statistics adapted from the American Cancer Society.

Stage

Five-year 
relative survival

I

63%

II

61%

III

50%

IV

35%

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Nasal Cavity and Paranasal Sinus Cancer - Medical Illustrations

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 08/2014

ON THIS PAGE: You will find a basic drawing of the common body parts affected by this disease. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

Nasal Cavity and Paranasal Sinus Cancer

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For medical illustrations of the different stages of nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer, please visit the Stages section.

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Nasal Cavity and Paranasal Sinus Cancer - Risk Factors and Prevention

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 08/2014

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about the factors that increase the chance of developing these types of cancer and things you can do to help prevent them. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

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.

Two risk factors 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. Additionally, recent research suggests that people who have used marijuana may be at higher risk for head and neck cancer. Secondhand smoke may also increase a person’s risk of 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:

Human papillomavirus (HPV). Research indicates that infection with this virus is a risk factor for nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer. HPV is most commonly passed from person to person during sexual activity. There are different types, or strains, of HPV, and some strains are more strongly linked with certain types of cancers. HPV vaccines protect against specific strains of the virus.

Specific inhalants. Breathing in certain substances, most commonly found in the work environment, 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 nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer.

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

Age. This type of cancer is most commonly found in people between the ages of 45 and 85.

Prevention

Research continues to look into what factors cause this type of cancer and what people can do to lower their personal risk. There is no proven way to completely prevent nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer, but there may be steps you can take to lower your cancer risk. Talk with your doctor if you have concerns about your personal risk of developing these types of cancer.

Although some risk factors for nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer cannot be changed, such as a person’s age and gender, several can be avoided by making lifestyle changes. 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 and wearing a protective facemask to reduce breathing in potentially harmful substances may help reduce this risk. Workplace exposure and industrial-related hazards can be reduced by appropriate air filtering, and workers in these areas need to be aware of their potential risk of exposure.

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Nasal Cavity and Paranasal Sinus Cancer - Symptoms and Signs

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 08/2014

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about body changes and other things that can signal a problem that may need medical care. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

People with nasal cavity or paranasal sinus cancer may experience the following symptoms or signs. Sometimes, people with nasal cavity or paranasal sinus cancer do not show any of these symptoms. In fact, these types of cancer are usually diagnosed in their later stages because early stage cancer typically does not cause any symptoms. Nasal cavity or paranasal sinus cancer is often discovered when a person is being treated for seemingly benign, inflammatory disease of the sinuses, such as sinusitis. However, these symptoms may be caused by a medical condition that is not cancer.

  • Nasal obstruction or persistent nasal congestion and stuffiness, which is often called sinus congestion 
  • Chronic sinus infections that do not respond to antibiotic treatment
  • Frequent headaches or pain in the sinus region
  • Pain or swelling in the face, eyes, or ears
  • Persistent tearing of the eyes
  • Bulging of one of the eyes or vision loss
  • Decreased sense of smell
  • Pain or numbness in the teeth
  • Loosening of teeth
  • A lump on the face, nose, or inside the mouth
  • Frequent runny nose
  • Frequent nosebleeds
  • Difficulty opening the mouth
  • A lump or sore inside the nose that does not heal
  • Fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • A lump in the neck 

A person who notices any of these warning signs should talk with a doctor and/or dentist right away and ask for a detailed physical examination, particularly if the symptoms continue for several weeks. Nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer has a much better chance of being treated successfully when they are found early.

Your doctor will ask how long and how often you’ve been experiencing the symptom(s), in addition to other questions. This is to help find out the cause of the problem, called a diagnosis.

Because many of these symptoms can be caused by other, noncancerous health conditions, it is always important to receive regular health and dental screenings; this is particularly important for people who routinely drink alcohol or who currently use tobacco products or have used them in the past. In fact, people who use alcohol and tobacco should receive a general physical examination at least once a year even if they do not have any symptoms. This is a simple, quick office visit in which the doctor looks in the nose, mouth, and throat for abnormalities and feels for lumps in the neck. If anything unusual is found, the doctor will recommend a more extensive examination using one or more of the diagnostic procedures mentioned in the Diagnosis section.

If cancer is diagnosed, relieving symptoms remains an important part of cancer care and treatment. This may also be called symptom management, palliative care, or supportive care. Be sure to talk with your health care team about symptoms you experience, including any new symptoms or a change in symptoms.

The next section helps explain what tests and scans may be needed to learn more about the cause of the symptoms. Use the menu on the side of your screen to select Diagnosis, or you can select another section, to continue reading this guide.

Nasal Cavity and Paranasal Sinus Cancer - Diagnosis

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 08/2014

ON THIS PAGE: You will find a list of the common tests, procedures, and scans that doctors can use to find out what’s wrong and identify the cause of the problem. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

Doctors use many tests to diagnose cancer and find out if it spread to another part of the body, called metastasis. Some tests may also determine which treatments may be the most effective. For most types of cancer, a biopsy is the only way to make a definitive diagnosis. If a biopsy is not possible, the doctor may suggest other tests that will help make a diagnosis. Imaging tests may be used to find out whether the cancer has spread. This list describes options for diagnosing these types of cancer, and not all tests listed will be used for every person. Your doctor may consider these factors when choosing a diagnostic test:

  • Age and medical condition
  • Type of cancer suspected
  • Signs and symptoms
  • Previous test results

To make the diagnosis, a complete medical history and physical examination are necessary. Signs of nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer are often very similar to symptoms of chronic or allergic sinusitis. The physical examination is important, and doctors may perform one or more of the tests listed below to reach a diagnosis. There are no specific blood or urine tests that can be performed to help make an early diagnosis of either of these types of cancer

The following tests may be used to diagnose nasal cavity or paranasal sinus cancer:

Physical examination. The doctor feels for any lumps on the neck, lips, gums, and cheeks. Also, the doctor will inspect the nose, mouth, throat, and tongue for abnormalities, often using a light and/or mirror for a clearer view.

Biopsy. A biopsy is the removal of a small amount of tissue for examination under a microscope. Other tests can suggest that cancer is present, but only a biopsy can make a definite diagnosis. The sample removed during the biopsy is analyzed by a pathologist. A pathologist is a doctor who specializes in interpreting laboratory tests and evaluating cells, tissues, and organs to diagnose disease.

Endoscopy. This test allows the doctor to see inside the body with a thin, lighted, flexible tube called an endoscope. The person may be sedated as the tube is inserted through the mouth or nose to examine the head and neck areas. Sedation is the use of medication to help a person become more relaxed, calm, or sleepy. The examination has different names depending on the area of the body that is examined, such as laryngoscopy, which examines the larynx; pharyngoscopy, which examines the pharynx; or nasopharyngoscopy, which examines the nasal cavity and nasopharynx.

In some cases, a diagnosis of paranasal sinus cancer will be made during an endoscopic surgery for what is believed to be benign chronic sinusitis. During the endoscopic sinus surgery, it is important for the surgeon to take a biopsy sample of normal-looking tissue and confirm the diagnosis in a procedure called a frozen section examination before completing the endoscopic surgery for benign chronic sinusitis. For more information about surgery, see the Treatment Options section.

X-ray. An x-ray is a way to create a picture of the structures inside of the body, using a small amount of radiation. An x-ray can show if the sinuses are filled with something other than air. If so, it is usually not cancer but, instead, an infection that is treatable. If treatment doesn’t work to clear the sinuses, then other more specialized x-ray tests may be done to identify the blockage. Signs of cancer on an x-ray may be followed up with a computed tomography scan, also called a CT scan.

Computed tomography (CT or CAT) scan. A CT scan creates a three-dimensional picture of the inside of the body with an x-ray machine. A computer then combines these images into a detailed, cross-sectional view that shows any abnormalities or tumors. A CT scan can also be used to measure the tumor’s size. Sometimes, a special dye called a contrast medium is given before the scan to create a clearer picture. This dye can be injected into a patient’s vein or given as a pill to swallow. CT scans are very useful in identifying cancer of the nasal cavity or paranasal sinus.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). An MRI uses magnetic fields, not x-rays, to produce detailed images of the body, especially images of soft tissue, such as the eye in its socket and the part of the brain near the sinuses. MRI can also be used to measure the tumor’s size. A contrast medium may be injected into a patient’s vein or given as a pill to swallow to create a clearer picture.

Bone scan. This test may be done to see if cancer has spread to the bones. A bone scan uses a radioactive tracer to look at the inside of the bones. The tracer is injected into a patient’s vein. It collects in areas of the bone and is detected by a special camera. Healthy bone appears gray to the camera, and areas of injury, such as those caused by cancer, appear dark.

Positron emission tomography (PET) scan. A PET scan is a way to create pictures of organs and tissues inside the body. A small amount of a radioactive sugar substance is injected into the patient’s body. This sugar substance is taken up by cells that use the most energy. Because cancer tends to use energy actively, it absorbs more of the radioactive substance. A scanner then detects this substance to produce images of the inside of the body.
After diagnostic tests are done, your doctor will review all of the results with you. If the diagnosis is cancer, these results also help the doctor describe the cancer; this is called staging.

The next section helps explain the different stages for this type of cancer. Use the menu on the side of your screen to select Stages, or you can select another section, to continue reading this guide.

Nasal Cavity and Paranasal Sinus Cancer - Stages and Grades

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 08/2014

ON THIS PAGE: You will learn about how doctors describe a cancer’s growth or spread, as well as the way the tumor cells look when viewed under a microscope. This is called the stage and grade. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

Staging is a way of describing where the cancer is located, if or where it has spread, and whether it is affecting other parts of the body. Doctors use diagnostic tests to find out the cancer’s stage, so staging may not be complete until all of the tests are finished. Knowing the stage helps the doctor to decide what kind of treatment is best and can help predict a patient’s prognosis, which is the chance of recovery. There are different stage descriptions for different types of cancer.

One tool that doctors use to describe the stage is the TNM system. TNM is an abbreviation for tumor (T), node (N), and metastasis (M). Doctors look at these three factors to determine the stage of cancer:

  • How large is the primary tumor and where is it located? (Tumor, T)
  • Has the tumor spread to the lymph nodes? (Node, N)
  • Has the cancer metastasized to other parts of the body? (Metastasis, M)

The results are combined to determine the stage of cancer for each person. There are five stages: stage 0 (zero) and stages I through IV (one through four). The stage provides a common way of describing the cancer, so doctors can work together to plan the best treatments.

Here are more details on each part of the TNM system for nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer:

Tumor. Using the TNM system, the "T" plus a letter or number (0 to 4) is used to describe the size and location of the tumor. Some stages are also divided into smaller groups that help describe the tumor in even more detail. Specific tumor stage information is listed below.

TX: The primary tumor cannot be evaluated.

T0: No evidence of a tumor is found.

Tis: This is a very early stage cancer when cancer cells are found only in one layer of tissue. It is also called carcinoma (cancer) in situ.

Tumors of the paranasal sinuses are also evaluated by their exact location. See the Overview section for descriptions.

Primary tumor (T) in the maxillary sinus

T1: The tumor is limited to the inside of the sinus and does not erode or invade bone.

T2: The tumor erodes or invades bone surrounding the sinuses.

T3: The tumor invades the surrounding bone, the skin of the cheek, or the other sinuses.

T4a: The tumor invades the bone surrounding the eye, the skin of the cheek, or the bones in the back of the throat.

T4b: The tumor invades any of the following: the back of the eye, the brain area, or the bones of the skull, other than those behind the nose and the back of the head.

Primary tumor (T) in the nasal cavity and ethmoid sinus

T1: The tumor is limited to the inside of the sinus with no involvement with the bone.

T2: The tumor extends into the nasal cavity.

T3: The tumor extends into the maxillary sinus or to the bone surrounding the eye.

T4a: The tumor has spread throughout the facial bones or into the base of the skull.

T4b: The tumor invades any of the following: the back of the eye, the brain area, or the back of the head.

Node. The “N” in the TNM staging system stands for lymph nodes, the tiny, bean-shaped organs that help fight infection. Lymph nodes near the head and neck are called regional lymph nodes. Lymph nodes in other parts of the body are called distant lymph nodes. Since there are many nodes in the head and neck area, the doctor’s careful evaluation of lymph nodes is an important part of staging.

NX: The regional lymph nodes cannot be evaluated.

N0: There is no evidence of cancer in the regional lymph nodes.

N1: The cancer has spread to a single lymph node on the same side as the primary tumor, and the cancer found is 3 centimeters (cm) or smaller.

N2: This describes any of the following three conditions:

N2a: The cancer has spread to a single lymph node on the same side as the primary tumor, and it is larger than 3 cm but not larger than 6 cm.

N2b: The cancer has spread to more than one lymph node on the same side as the primary tumor, but none measure larger than 6 cm.

N2c: The cancer has spread to more than one lymph node on either side of the body, but none measure larger than 6 cm.

N3: The cancer is found in at least one nearby lymph node and is larger than 6 cm.

Distant metastasis. The "M" in the TNM system indicates whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

MX: Distant metastasis cannot be evaluated.

M0: The cancer has not spread to other parts of the body.

M1: The cancer has spread to another part(s) of the body.

Cancer stage grouping

Doctors assign the stage of the cancer by combining the T, N, and M classifications (or T, N, M and G, used to describe the tumor grade, which is explained below).

Stage 0: This is a very early cancer (Tis) with no spread to lymph nodes (N0) or distant metastasis (M0).

Nasal Cavity and Paranasal Sinus Cancer Stage 0

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Stage I: This is a noninvasive cancer (T1) with no spread to lymph nodes (N0) and no distant metastasis (M0).

Nasal Cavity and Paranasal Sinus Cancer Stage I

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Stage II: This is an invasive cancer (T2) that has not spread to lymph nodes (N0) or to distant parts of the body (M0).

Nasal Cavity and Paranasal Sinus Cancer Stage II

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Stage III: This includes invasive cancer (T3) with no spread to regional lymph nodes (N0) and no metastasis (M0), as well as invasive cancer (T1, T2, T3) that has spread to regional lymph nodes (N1) but shows no sign of metastasis (M0).

Nasal Cavity and Paranasal Sinus Cancer Stage III

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Stage IVA: This is an invasive cancer (T4a) that either has no lymph node involvement (N0) or has spread to only one same-sided lymph node (N1) but with no metastasis (M0). It is also used for any cancer (any T) with more significant nodal involvement (N2) but with no metastasis (M0).

Nasal Cavity and Paranasal Sinus Cancer Stage IVA

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Stage IVB: This is an invasive cancer (any T) that has spread to lymph nodes (any N) but has no metastasis (M0). It is also used for any cancer (any T) that is found in lymph nodes and is larger than 6 cm (N3) but has no metastasis (M0).

Nasal Cavity and Paranasal Sinus Cancer Stage IVB

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Stage IVC: This refers to any tumor (any T, any N) when there is evidence of distant spread (M1).

Nasal Cavity and Paranasal Sinus Cancer Stage IVC

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Recurrent: Recurrent cancer is cancer that has come back after treatment. If there is a recurrence, the cancer may need to be staged again (called re-staging) using the system above.

Grade

Doctors also describe this type of cancer by its grade (G), which describes how much cancer cells look like healthy cells when viewed under a microscope. The doctor compares the cancerous tissue with healthy tissue. Healthy tissue usually contains many different types of cells grouped together. If the cancer looks similar to healthy tissue and contains different cell groupings, it is called differentiated or a low-grade tumor. If the cancerous tissue looks very different from healthy tissue, it is called poorly differentiated or a high-grade tumor. The cancer’s grade can help the doctor predict how quickly the cancer will spread. In general, the lower the tumor’s grade, the better the prognosis.

GX: The grade cannot be evaluated.

G1: The cells look more like healthy tissue and is well differentiated.

G2: The cells are only moderately differentiated.

G3: The cells don’t resemble healthy tissue and is poorly differentiated.

Used with permission of the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC), Chicago, Illinois. The original source for this material is the AJCC Cancer Staging Manual, Seventh Edition (2010) published by Springer-Verlag New York, www.cancerstaging.net.

Information about the cancer’s stage and grade will help the doctor recommend a treatment plan. The next section helps explain the treatment options for this type of cancer. Use the menu on the side of your screen to select Treatment Options, or you can select another section, to continue reading this guide.

Nasal Cavity and Paranasal Sinus Cancer - Treatment Options

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 08/2014

ON THIS PAGE: You will learn about the different ways doctors use to treat people with these types of cancer. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

This section outlines treatments that are the standard of care, the best proven treatments available, for these specific types of cancer. When making treatment plan decisions, patients are also encouraged to consider clinical trials as an option. A clinical trial is a research study to test a new approach to treatment to evaluate whether it is safe, effective, and possibly better than the standard treatment. Clinical trials may test such approaches as a new drug, a new combination of standard treatments, or new doses of current therapies. Your doctor can help you review all treatment options. For more information, see the Clinical Trials and Latest Research sections.

Treatment overview

In cancer care, different types of doctors often work together to create a patient’s overall treatment plan that combines different types of treatments. This is called a multidisciplinary team. For nasal cavity or paranasal sinus cancer, the team may include medical and radiation oncologists (doctors who specialize in treating people with cancer), surgeons, otolaryngologists (ear, nose, and throat doctors), dentists, maxillofacial prosthodontists (specialists who perform restorative surgery in the head and neck areas), physical therapists, speech pathologists, psychiatrists, nurses, dietitians, and social workers. A neurosurgeon (a doctor who specializes in surgery on the brain and spinal cord) should also be part of this team when a tumor in the skull or facial area needs to be removed.

Nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer can often be cured, especially if found early. Although curing the cancer is the primary goal of treatment, preserving the function of the nearby nerves, organs, and tissues is also very important. When doctors plan treatment, they consider how treatment might affect a person’s quality of life, such as how the person feels, looks, talks, eats, and breathes.

Descriptions of the most common treatment options for nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer are listed below. The three main treatment options are surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. One of these treatments, or a combination of them, may be used. Your care plan may also include treatment for symptoms and side effects, an important part of cancer care. Treatment options and recommendations depend on several factors, including the type and stage of cancer, possible side effects, and the patient’s preferences and overall health. Take time to learn about all of your treatment options and be sure to ask questions about things that are unclear. Also, talk about the goals of each treatment with your doctor and what you can expect while receiving the treatment. Learn more about making treatment decisions.

Surgery

Surgery is frequently used to remove cancer of the paranasal sinus or nasal cavity. A surgical oncologist is a doctor who specializes in treating cancer using surgery. The goal of surgery is to remove all of the tumor and leave no trace of cancer in the healthy tissue, also called negative margins. However, usually it’s not possible to completely remove the cancer with an operation, so additional treatments may be necessary. This may include more than one operation to remove the cancer and to help restore the appearance and function of the tissues affected.

Common types of surgery for nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer include:

Excision. During an excision, the doctor performs an operation to remove the cancerous tumor and some of the healthy tissue around it, called a margin.

Maxillectomy. This is a surgery that removes part or all of the hard palate, which is the bony roof of the mouth. Artificial devices called prostheses or, more recently, flaps of soft tissue with and without bone can be placed to fill gaps from this operation. A maxillectomy is sometimes recommended to treat paranasal sinus cancer. Occasionally, it is possible to save the eye on the side of the cancer.

Craniofacial resection/skull base surgery. This is an extensive surgery often recommended for paranasal sinus cancer that removes more tissue than a maxillectomy. It requires the close cooperation of the health care team, particularly cooperation between a neurosurgeon and a head and neck surgeon.

Endoscopic sinus surgery. This relatively new approach is less destructive to healthy tissue than traditional operations. Occasionally, it can be used for nasal cavity and paranasal sinus tumors, especially if they are benign. The surgeon makes a small incision to remove the tumor using a thin, telescope-like tube inserted into the nasal cavity or sinus. As mentioned in the Diagnosis section, endoscopic sinus surgery is often used for chronic sinusitis, and cancer may be discovered during such surgery.

Neck dissection. This is the surgical removal of lymph nodes in the neck area. If the doctor suspects the cancer has spread, a neck dissection may be performed, often at the same time as another surgery. A neck dissection may cause numbness of the ear, weakness when raising the arm above the head, and weakness of the lower lip. The side effects are caused by injury to nerves in the area. Depending on the type of neck dissection, weakness of the lower lip and arm may go away in a few months. Weakness will be permanent if a nerve is removed as part of a dissection.

Reconstructive (plastic) surgery. If surgery requires removing large or specific areas of tissue, reconstructive surgery may be recommended. If the eye is removed, a specialist called a prosthodontist can provide an artificial replacement, called a prosthesis. More often, when the upper jaw, called the maxilla, is removed, a prosthodontist may play a large role in the rehabilitation process.

In general, surgery often includes risks because the eyes, mouth, brain, and important nerves and blood vessels are nearby. Surgery often causes swelling of the face, mouth, and throat, making it difficult to breathe; sometimes a hole in the windpipe, called a tracheostomy, may be necessary to make breathing easier for some period of time after surgery. It is important to talk with your surgeon(s) about which side effects to expect before having the surgery and your plan for recovery. Learn more about cancer surgery.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy is the use of high energy x-rays or other particles to destroy cancer cells. A doctor who specializes in giving radiation therapy to treat cancer is called a radiation oncologist.

For this type of cancer, radiation therapy is most often used in combination with surgery, given either before or after the operation. It may also be given along with chemotherapy (see below). For some types of tumors in the nasal cavity or paranasal sinus, radiation therapy may be the main treatment. It can also be an option if a person cannot have surgery or decides not to have surgery.

The most common type of radiation treatment is called external-beam radiation therapy, which is radiation given from a machine outside the body. Specific types of external radiation therapy include intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) and proton therapy. IMRT allows more effective doses of radiation therapy to be delivered while reducing the damage to healthy cells and causing fewer side effects. Proton therapy uses protons, rather than x-rays. At high energy, protons can destroy cancer cells. Proton therapy may be used in nasal cavity or paranasal sinus cancer when the tumor is located close to the eye or central nervous system, which includes the brain and spinal cord. An external-beam radiation therapy regimen (schedule) usually consists of a specific number of treatments given over a set period of time.

When radiation treatment is given using implants, it is called internal radiation therapy or brachytherapy. Internal radiation therapy involves tiny pellets or rods containing radioactive materials that are surgically implanted in or near the tumor site. The implant is left in place for several days while the person stays in the hospital.

Before beginning any type of radiation therapy for these types of cancer, people should receive a thorough examination from a dentist experienced in treating people with head and neck cancer. Because radiation therapy can cause tooth decay, damaged teeth may need to be removed. Often, tooth decay can be prevented with proper treatment from a dentist before beginning cancer treatment. After radiation therapy for nasal cavity or paranasal sinus cancer, dental care should continue to help prevent further dental problems. People may receive fluoride treatment to prevent cavities, also called dental caries. Read more about dental and oral health during cancer treatment.

In addition, radiation therapy to the head and neck may cause redness or skin irritation in the treated area, dry mouth or thickened saliva from damage to salivary glands, bone pain, nausea, fatigue, mouth sores, and/or sore throat. Other side effects may include pain or difficulty swallowing; loss of appetite, due to a change in sense of taste; hearing loss, due to buildup of fluid in the middle ear; and buildup of earwax that dries out because of the radiation therapy’s effect on the ear canal. Radiation therapy may also cause a condition called hypothyroidism in which the thyroid gland, located in the neck, slows down, causing people to feel tired and sluggish. Every patient who receives radiation therapy to the neck area should have his or her thyroid checked regularly. Researchers are conducting numerous studies to find ways to reduce or better relieve the side effects of radiation therapy.

Learn more about radiation therapy.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to destroy cancer cells, usually by stopping the cancer cells’ ability to grow and divide. Chemotherapy is given by a medical oncologist, a doctor who specializes in treating cancer with medication. A chemotherapy regimen (schedule) usually consists of a specific number of cycles given over a set period of time. A patient may receive one drug at a time or combinations of different drugs at the same time.

Systemic chemotherapy is delivered through the bloodstream to reach cancer cells throughout the body. Common ways to give chemotherapy include an intravenous (IV) tube placed into a vein using a needle or in a pill or capsule that is swallowed (orally).

The use of chemotherapy before or after surgery and/or radiation therapy or in combination with radiation therapy, called concurrent chemoradiotherapy, is frequently recommended for these types of cancer. However, chemoradiotherapy is still being investigated and should be done as part of a clinical trial.

For nasal cavity or paranasal sinus cavity cancer, chemotherapy may also be used to treat advanced cancer (see below) or to treat symptoms. Some chemotherapy is available in clinical trials that may treat cancer at an earlier stage.

The side effects of chemotherapy depend on the individual and the dose used, but they can include fatigue, risk of infection, nausea and vomiting, hair loss, loss of appetite, and diarrhea. These side effects usually go away once treatment is finished.

Learn more about chemotherapy and preparing for treatment. The medications used to treat cancer are continually being evaluated. Talking with your doctor is often the best way to learn about the medications prescribed for you, their purpose, and their potential side effects or interactions with other medications. Learn more about your prescriptions by using searchable drug databases.

Getting care for symptoms and side effects

Cancer and its treatment often cause side effects. In addition to treatment to slow, stop, or eliminate the cancer, an important part of cancer care is relieving a person’s symptoms and side effects. This approach is called palliative or supportive care, and it includes supporting the patient with his or her physical, emotional, and social needs.

Palliative care can help a person at any stage of illness. People often receive treatment for the cancer and treatment to ease side effects at the same time. In fact, patients who receive both often have less severe symptoms, better quality of life, and report they are more satisfied with treatment.

Palliative treatments vary widely and often include medication, nutritional changes, relaxation techniques, and other therapies. You may also receive palliative treatments similar to those meant to eliminate the cancer, such as chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation therapy. Talk with your doctor about the goals of each treatment in the treatment plan.

Before treatment begins, talk with your health care team about the possible side effects of your specific treatment plan and supportive care options. And during and after treatment, be sure to tell your doctor or another health care team member if you are experiencing a problem so it is addressed as quickly as possible. Learn more about palliative care

Metastatic nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer

If cancer has spread to another location in the body, it is called metastatic cancer. Patients with this diagnosis are encouraged to talk with doctors who are experienced in treating this stage of cancer, because there can be different opinions about the best treatment plan. Learn more about seeking a second opinion before starting treatment, so you are comfortable with the treatment plan chosen. This discussion may include clinical trials.

Your health care team may recommend a treatment plan that consists of chemotherapy or a combination of surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. Supportive care will also be important to help relieve symptoms and side effects.

For most patients, a diagnosis of metastatic cancer is very stressful and, at times, difficult to bear. Patients and their families are encouraged to talk about the way they are feeling with doctors, nurses, social workers, or other members of the health care team. It may also be helpful to talk with other patients, including through a support group.

Remission and the chance of recurrence

A remission is when cancer cannot be detected in the body and there are no symptoms. This may also be called “no evidence of disease” or NED. 

A remission can be temporary or permanent. This uncertainty leads to many survivors feeling worried or anxious that the cancer will come back. While many remissions are permanent, it’s important to talk with your doctor about the possibility of the cancer returning. Understanding the risk of recurrence and the treatment options may help you feel more prepared if the cancer does return. Learn more about coping with the fear of recurrence.

If the cancer does return after the original treatment, it is called recurrent cancer. It may come back in the same place (called a local recurrence), nearby (regional recurrence), or in another place (distant recurrence).

When this occurs, a cycle of testing will begin again to learn as much as possible about the recurrence, including whether the cancer’s stage has changed. After testing is done, you and your doctor will talk about your treatment options. Often the treatment plan will include the therapies described above, such as surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy, but they may be used in a different combination or given at a different pace. Your doctor may also suggest clinical trials that are studying new ways to treat this type of recurrent cancer.

People with recurrent cancer often experience emotions such as disbelief or fear. Patients are encouraged to talk with their health care team about these feelings and ask about support services to help them cope. Learn more about dealing with cancer recurrence.

If treatment fails

Recovery from cancer is not always possible. If treatment is not successful, the disease may be called advanced or terminal cancer.

This diagnosis is stressful, and this is difficult to discuss for many people. However, it is important to have open and honest conversations with your doctor and health care team to express your feelings, preferences, and concerns. The health care team is there to help, and many team members have special skills, experience, and knowledge to support patients and their families. Making sure a person is physically comfortable and free from pain is extremely important.

Patients who have advanced cancer and who are expected to live less than six months may want to consider a type of palliative care called hospice care. Hospice care is designed to provide the best possible quality of life for people who are near the end of life. You and your family are encouraged to think about where you would be most comfortable: at home, in the hospital, or in a hospice environment. Nursing care and special equipment can make staying at home a workable alternative for many families. Learn more about advanced cancer care planning.

After the death of a loved one, many people need support to help them cope with the loss. Learn more about grief and loss.

The next section helps explain clinical trials, which are research studies. Use the menu on the side of your screen to select About Clinical Trials, or you can select another section, to continue reading this guide.

Nasal Cavity and Paranasal Sinus Cancer - About Clinical Trials

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 08/2014

ON THIS PAGE: You will learn more about clinical trials, which are the main way that new medical approaches are tested to see how well they work. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

Doctors and scientists are always looking for better ways to treat patients with nasal cavity or paranasal sinus cancer. To make scientific advances, doctors create research studies involving people, called clinical trials.

Many clinical trials are focused on new treatments, evaluating whether a new treatment is safe, effective, and possibly better than the current (standard) treatment. These types of studies evaluate new drugs, different combinations of existing treatments, new approaches to radiation therapy or surgery, and new methods of treatment. Patients who participate in clinical trials are often among the first to receive new treatments before they are widely available. However, there is no guarantee that the new treatment will be safe, effective, or better than a standard treatment.

There are also clinical trials that study new ways to ease symptoms and side effects during treatment and manage the late effects that may occur after treatment. Talk with your doctor about clinical trials regarding side effects. In addition, there are ongoing studies about ways to prevent the disease.

Patients decide to participate in clinical trials for many reasons. For some patients, a clinical trial is the best treatment option available. Because standard treatments are not perfect, patients are often willing to face the added uncertainty of a clinical trial in the hope of a better result. Other patients volunteer for clinical trials because they know that these studies are the only way to make progress in treating nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer. Even if they do not benefit directly from the clinical trial, their participation may benefit future patients with nasal cavity or paranasal sinus cancer.

Sometimes people have concerns that, by participating in a clinical trial, they may receive no treatment by being given a placebo or a “sugar pill.” The use of placebos in cancer clinical trials is rare. When a placebo is used in a study, it is done with the full knowledge of the participants. Find out more about placebos in cancer clinical trials.

To join a clinical trial, patients must participate in a process known as informed consent. During informed consent, the doctor should list all of the patient’s options so that the person understands how the new treatment differs from the standard treatment. The doctor must also list all of the risks of the new treatment, which may or may not be different than the risks of standard treatment. Finally, the doctor must explain what will be required of each patient in order to participate in the clinical trial, including the number of doctor visits, tests, and the schedule of treatment.

For specific topics being studied for nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer, learn more in the Latest Research section.

Patients who participate in a clinical trial may stop participating at any time for any personal or medical reason. This may include that the new treatment is not working or there are serious side effects. Clinical trials are also closely monitored by experts who watch for any problems with each study. It is important that patients participating in a clinical trial talk with their doctor and researchers about who will be providing their treatment and care during the clinical trial, after the clinical trial ends, and/or if the patient chooses to leave the clinical trial before it ends. 

Cancer.Net offers a lot of information about cancer clinical trials in other areas of the website, including a complete section on clinical trials and places to search for clinical trials for a specific type of cancer.

The next section helps explain the areas of research going on today about this type of cancer. Use the menu on the side of your screen to select Latest Research, or you can select another section, to continue reading this guide.

Nasal Cavity and Paranasal Sinus Cancer - Latest Research

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 08/2014

ON THIS PAGE: You will read about the scientific research being done now to learn more about nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer and how to treat them. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

Doctors are working to learn more about nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer, ways to prevent them, how to best treat them, and how to provide the best care to people diagnosed with these diseases. The following areas of research may include new options for patients through clinical trials. Always talk with your doctor about the diagnostic and treatment options best for you.

Combined therapies. Most research for head and neck cancers focuses on combining different types of treatments to improve treatment effectiveness and the patient’s quality of life.

Chemotherapy. As explained in the Treatment Options section, there are clinical trials to test new and existing drugs for different stages of this type of cancer.

Supportive care. Clinical trials are underway to find better ways of reducing symptoms and side effects of current nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer treatments to improve patients’ comfort and quality of life.

Looking for More About the Latest Research?

If you would like additional information about the latest areas of research regarding nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer, explore these related items that will take you outside of this guide:

  • To find clinical trials specific to your diagnosis, talk with your doctor or search online clinical trial databases now.
  • Visit ASCO’s CancerProgress.Net website to learn more about the historical pace of research for head and neck cancers. Please note this link takes you to a separate ASCO website.

The next section addresses how to cope with the symptoms of the disease or the side effects of its treatment. Use the menu on the side of your screen to select Coping with Side Effects, or you can select another section, to continue reading this guide. 

Nasal Cavity and Paranasal Sinus Cancer - Coping with Side Effects

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 08/2014

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about steps to take to help cope with physical, social, and emotional side effects. This page includes several links outside of this guide to other sections of this website. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

Fear of treatment side effects is common after a diagnosis of cancer, but it may help to know that preventing and controlling side effects is a major focus of your health care team. This is called palliative or supportive care, and it is an important part of the overall treatment plan, regardless of the stage of disease.

Common side effects from each treatment option for nasal cavity or paranasal sinus cancer are described in detail within the Treatment Options section. Learn more about the most common side effects of cancer and different treatments, along with ways to prevent or control them. Side effects depend on a variety of factors, including the cancer’s stage, the length and dosage of treatment(s), and your overall health.

Before treatment begins, talk with your doctor about possible side effects of each type of treatment you will be receiving. Ask which side effects are most likely to happen, when they are likely to occur, and what can be done to prevent or relieve them. And, ask about the level of caregiving you may need during treatment and recovery, as family members and friends often play an important role in the care of a person with nasal cavity or paranasal sinus cancer. Learn more about caregiving.

In addition to physical side effects, there may be emotional and social effects as well. Patients and their families are encouraged to share their feelings with a member of their health care team who can help with coping strategies, including concerns about managing the cost of your cancer care

During and after treatment, be sure to tell the health care team about the side effects you experience, even if you feel they are not serious. Sometimes, side effects can last beyond the treatment period, called a long-term side effect. A side effect that occurs months or years after treatment is called a late effect. Treatment of both types of effects is an important part of survivorship care. Learn more by reading the After Treatment section or talking with your doctor.

The next section helps explain medical tests and check-ups needed after finishing cancer treatment. Use the menu on the side of your screen to select After Treatment, or you can select another section, to continue reading this guide.

Nasal Cavity and Paranasal Sinus Cancer - After Treatment

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 08/2014

ON THIS PAGE: You will read about your medical care after cancer treatment is finished and why this follow-up care is important. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

After treatment for nasal cavity or paranasal sinus cancer ends, talk with your doctor about developing a follow-up care plan. This plan may include regular physical examinations and/or medical tests to monitor your recovery for the coming months and years.

ASCO offers cancer treatment summary forms to help keep track of the cancer treatment you received and develop a survivorship care plan once treatment is completed.

If the cancer recurs, it most commonly happens within the first two or three years after diagnosis, so follow-up visits will be more frequent during the first two or three years. Diagnostic examinations, such as CT scans, may be needed to watch for any signs of recurrences or to monitor how well the current treatment is working.

Rehabilitation is a major part of follow-up care after head and neck cancer treatment. People may receive physical therapy and speech therapy to regain skills, such as talking and swallowing. Supportive care to manage symptoms and maintain nutrition during and after treatment may be recommended. Some people may need to learn new ways to eat or adjust to eating foods that have been prepared differently. After surgery, a prosthodontist can help in the restoration and rehabilitation of any oral cavity structures that were removed during surgery.

Rehabilitation of physical changes resulting from a maxillectomy often requires a prosthesis. Prevention of dental decay by fluoride application is very important to avoid loss of existing teeth. Special eye care may also be necessary. Many times when a maxillectomy is done, fluid will accumulate in the middle ear on the side of surgery. Surgery to the eardrum, called a myringotomy, to drain this fluid may be required. Very frequently, especially after craniofacial resection, people will lose their sense of smell, called anosmia. It is important for these people to receive special coping strategies, especially around the house and work area, in case of chemical spills, smoke from a fire, and other potentially harmful situations. People who have received radiation therapy should avoid exposing the skin that received treatment to the sun. If radiation therapy included the neck, the thyroid gland should be checked regularly through blood tests.

People who have received treatment for nasal cavity or paranasal sinus cancer may look different, feel tired, and be unable to talk or eat the way they did before treatment. Many people experience depression. The health care team can help people cope with these physical and emotional changes and connect them with support services. Support groups may help people cope with changes following treatment.

People recovering from nasal cavity or paranasal sinus cancer are encouraged to follow established guidelines for good health, such as maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, limiting alcohol consumption, eating a balanced diet, and having recommended cancer screening tests. Talk with your doctor to develop a plan that is best for your needs. Moderate physical activity can help rebuild your strength and energy level. Your doctor can help you create an appropriate exercise plan based upon your needs, physical abilities, and fitness level. Learn more about the next steps to take in survivorship, including making positive lifestyle changes.

The next section offers a list of questions you may want to ask. Use the menu on the side of your screen to select Questions to Ask the Doctor, or you can select another section, to continue reading this guide.

Nasal Cavity and Paranasal Sinus Cancer - Questions to Ask the Doctor

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 08/2014

ON THIS PAGE: You will find some questions to ask your doctor or other members of your health care team, to help you better understand your diagnosis, treatment plan, and overall care. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

Talking often with the doctor is important to make informed decisions about your health care. These suggested questions are a starting point to help you learn more about your cancer care and treatment. You are also encouraged to ask additional questions that are important to you. You may want to print this list and bring it to your next appointment, or download Cancer.Net’s free mobile app for an e-list and other interactive tools to manage your care.

  • What type of nasal cavity cancer or paranasal sinus cancer do I have?
  • Where exactly is the tumor located?
  • What stage and grade is the tumor? What does this mean?
  • Can you explain my pathology report (laboratory test results) to me?
  • What are my treatment options?
  • What clinical trials are open to me? Where are they located, and how do I find out more about them?
  • What treatment plan do you recommend? Why?
  • What is the goal of each treatment? Is it to eliminate the cancer, help me feel better, or both?
  • Who will be part of my health care team, and what does each member do?
  • Can you recommend an oncologic dentist before treatment begins?
  • Should I see a speech pathologist prior to treatment?
  • Who will be coordinating my overall treatment and follow-up care?
  • Whom should I call for questions or problems?

If surgery is recommended:

  • What type of surgery do you recommend?  Why?
  • Who will perform my surgery? How much experience does the doctor or team have with this type of surgery?
  • Will my surgery include a neck dissection? If so, what does this mean?
  • Will it be necessary to remove part of my teeth or part of the palate (roof of my mouth)? If so, is rehabilitation by prosthesis available?
  • If surgery is needed, will it be necessary to have reconstruction done to replace lost tissue in the lower jawbone (mandible)?
  • Will I lose my eye or my eyesight?
  • Will anything happen to my sense of smell?
  • What other types of side effects can I expect? What will be done to prevent or relieve them?
  • Will other types of treatment, including additional surgery, be necessary after this surgery?

For all patients—side effects and follow-up care:

  • What are the possible side effects of each treatment, both in the short term and the long term?
  • How will this treatment affect my daily life? Will I be able to work, exercise, and perform my usual activities?
  • Could this treatment affect my sex life? If so, how and for how long?
  • Could this treatment affect my ability to become pregnant or have children? If so, should I talk with a fertility specialist before cancer treatment begins?
  • If I’m worried about managing the costs related to my cancer care, who can help me with these concerns?
  • What follow-up tests will I need, and how often will I need them?
  • What support services are available to me? To my family?

The next section offers some more resources that may be helpful to you. Use the menu on the side of your screen to select Additional Resources, or you can select another section, to continue reading this guide.

Nasal Cavity and Paranasal Sinus Cancer - Additional Resources

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 08/2014

ON THIS PAGE: You will find some helpful links to other areas of Cancer.Net that provide information about cancer care and treatment. This is the final page of Cancer.Net’s Guide to Nasal Cavity and Paranasal Sinus Cancer. To go back and review other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

Cancer.Net includes many other sections about the medical and emotional aspects of cancer, both for the person diagnosed and their family members and friends. This website is meant to be a resource for you and your loved ones from the time of diagnosis, through treatment, and beyond. Here are a few sections that may get you started in exploring the rest of Cancer.Net:

This is the end of Cancer.Net’s Guide to Nasal Cavity and Paranasal Sinus Cancer. Use the menu on the side of your screen to select another section to continue reading this guide.