Sinus cancer causes and risk factors

This page was reviewed under our medical and editorial policy by

Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science

This page was updated on June 6, 2022.

Sinus cancer is rare, representing between 3 percent and 5 percent of all head and neck cancers diagnosed in the United States.

What causes sinus cancer?

The exact causes of sinus cancer are unknown, but certain factors may increase a person's risk for developing the disease. Some examples are smoking and workplace exposure to certain carcinogens.

Sinus cancer risk factors

Certain lifestyle behaviors and environmental factors may increase the risk for developing sinus cancer. Disease risk may also depend on the location of the cancer and the sinus cancer type.

Common risk factors for sinus cancer include those listed below.

Alcohol abuse may increase the risk for developing all head and neck cancers.

Being male may increase the risk for developing sinus cancer, which is about twice as common among male patients than in women.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection has been linked to cancers of the nasal cavity and paranasal sinuses.

Increased age is a risk factor for developing sinus cancer. Approximately 80 percent of patients diagnosed with paranasal or nasal cavity cancers are over the age of 55.

Previous cancer treatments may increase the risk for developing sinus cancer. Exposure to high doses of radiation therapy, particularly in the head or neck region, may raise the risk of sinus and other head and neck cancers. In addition, patients who undergo radiation for retinoblastoma, an inherited eye cancer typically found in children, have an increased risk of developing nasal cavity cancer.

Smoking may increase the risk for developing nasal cavity cancer and nasopharyngeal cancer. According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, 85 percent of people diagnosed with head and neck cancers have used tobacco, particularly cigarettes.

The Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), known for causing mononucleosis in young adults, may be associated with the development of certain cancers, including nasopharyngeal cancer. EBV is prevalent in individuals of Asian ancestry and those who eat lots of smoked fish.

Workplace exposure to certain chemicals and substances may increase the risk of sinus cancer, especially in those involved in woodworking, baking with flour or working with nickel and other heavy metals.

Next topic: What are the symptoms of sinus cancer?

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