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Paranasal Sinus Cancer

By Bradley A. Schiff, MD

Cancer of the paranasal sinuses occurs mainly in the maxillary and ethmoid sinuses (see Figure: Locating the Sinuses). Although rare in the United States, these cancers are more common in Japan and among the Bantu people of South Africa. Doctors are not sure what causes these cancers, but they are more common among people who regularly inhale certain types of wood and metal dust. Doctors do not think chronic sinusitis causes these cancers.

Locating the Sinuses


Because the sinuses provide room for the cancer to grow, most people do not develop symptoms until the cancer is well advanced. Symptoms result from the pressure of the cancer on nearby structures and include

  • Pain

  • A sensation of nasal obstruction

  • Double vision

  • Nosebleeds

  • Loosened upper teeth underneath the affected sinus


  • Imaging studies

  • Biopsy

Doctors do imaging studies (typically computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging) to locate the tumor and describe its extent. To confirm the cancer, a doctor will do a biopsy by removing some tissue and examining it under a microscope. Doctors use a flexible viewing tube called an endoscope to see, biopsy, and sometimes remove a tumor.


The earlier the cancer is treated, the better the prognosis. However, survival is generally poor. Overall, about 60% of people with paranasal sinus cancer live more than 5 years.


  • Surgery

  • Radiation therapy

Doctors treat paranasal sinus cancer with a combination of surgery and radiation therapy. Recent advances in surgical techniques have allowed doctors to remove the tumors completely, spare uninvolved parts of the face (such as the eye), and reconstruct the area so that the person has a much better appearance.

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