Sinus Cancer Patient Smiling in Woods

Sinus cancer

This page was reviewed under our medical and editorial policy by Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science

This page was updated on July 20, 2022.

Sinus cancer occurs in the nasal cavity and paranasal sinus spaces behind the nose through which air passes on its way to the throat. Cancer that occurs in the sinus is categorized as head and neck cancer. Cancer occurs when malignant (cancerous) cells form. The most common type of sinus cancer is squamous cell carcinoma, likely because squamous cells are the most common cell type in the head and neck.

Around 2,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with sinus cancer each year. Most sinus cancers originate in the paranasal sinuses, with 60-70 percent developing within the maxillary sinuses in the cheekbones. Up to 30 percent of sinus cancers form in the nasal cavity. The ethmoid sinuses, located beside the upper nose and between the eyes, are the third most common site for sinus tumors. The remaining types of paranasal sinus cancer occur in the frontal sinuses or the sphenoid sinuses, but these locations are comparatively rare.

No sinus cancer patient is the same. Get personalized treatment.

At City of Hope, our oncologists are trained and experienced in diagnosing and treating all stages of sinus cancer. Our multidisciplinary teams of cancer experts evaluate the disease to determine its type and stage. We use that information to tailor a cancer care treatment plan based on your specific needs and diagnosis, including supportive care therapies to manage potential side effects of the disease and treatment.

This overview will cover the basic facts about sinus cancer, including:

If you believe you may be experiencing symptoms of sinus cancer and want to schedule an appointment for diagnostic testing, or if you’re interested in a second opinion on your sinus cancer diagnosis and treatment plan, call us or chat online with a member of our team.

What causes sinus cancer?

Who gets sinus cancer?

Sinus cancer is diagnosed more often in men than in women. Age is a common factor—nearly four out of five patients diagnosed with sinus cancer are 55 or older.

People who smoke, drink alcohol or have had exposure to heavy metals have an increased risk for developing sinus tumors. According to the National Cancer Institute, 85 percent of people diagnosed with head and neck cancers have used tobacco, particularly cigarettes.

Margery Gadd

Margery G.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

"I am extremely thankful for the support and love my family has given me. My husband, John, has been with me at every visit to City of Hope. My children have also been supportive through this journey. I have so much to live for, and am planning to be around for a very long time."


More About MARGERY

Sinus cancer types

Sinus cancers are classified according to the type of cancer cells involved. Those types include:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma, which originates in the thin, flat cells lining the sinuses, with carcinoma in situ confined to this cellular layer and invasive squamous cell carcinoma spreading more deeply into the tissue
  • Mucosa cell carcinoma, which occurs in the mucous membrane
  • Adenoid cystic cell carcinoma, which is a rare form of sinus cancer that occurs in the minor salivary glands of the paranasal sinuses
  • Acinic cell carcinoma, which develops in the salivary glands, particularly in the parotid gland near the base of each ear
  • Sinonasal undifferentiated carcinoma, which is a rare neoplasm that develops in the epithelium of the nose or sinuses

Another type of cancer mischaracterized as sinus cancer is nasopharyngeal lymphoma. It occurs in the nasopharynx, which makes up the upper part of the throat and connects the nasal cavity behind the nose, near the base of the skull. Nasopharyngeal cancer is categorized as a throat cancer. Many patients mistakenly classify it as sinus cancer because it involves the area behind the nasal cavity.

Learn more about sinus cancer types

Sinus cancer symptoms

Diagnosing sinus cancer

Some evaluations designed for diagnosing sinus cancer include:

Learn more about diagnostic procedures for sinus cancer

Sinus cancer treatments

City of Hope approach to helping you maintain your quality of life

At City of Hope, we understand that sinus cancer, like other cancers of the head and neck, can impact patients’ quality of life, sometimes in debilitating ways. For example, most sinus cancers that have spread require extensive surgeries that remove the front of the hard palate at the roof of the mouth, making everyday tasks like eating and speaking difficult. Surgery for sinus cancer may also affect the patient’s physical appearance.

That’s why each sinus cancer patient has access to personalized supportive care therapies as part of his or her treatment plan. A speech therapist may help patients restore their ability to speak clearly, while also recommending exercises and other techniques to help manage difficulty swallowing. A pain management physician, meanwhile, can help patients with both prescription narcotics and non-pharmaceutical strategies like nerve blockers and pain pumps to help them find relief. And a dietitian may design a personalized eating regimen to help patients make up for nutritional deficiencies in their diet.

To help restore the appearance and functions of facial features affected by cancer or its treatment, reconstructive surgery may be an option. These surgeries typically include microvascular reconstruction, which uses tissues from other parts of the body, such as a rib graft or ear cartilage, to rebuild the upper jaw or other areas, and/or free flaps, in which small blood vessels are sewn together under a microscope to reconstruct the sinuses. Prosthetics to reconstruct the jaw or eye may also be an option.

At City of Hope, treating cancer is about more than treating the disease. It’s about treating the whole person.