Sinus cancer types

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 categorized by a number of types, depending on where it forms, along with other factors. After a patient receives a sinus cancer diagnosis, the care team evaluates whether the cancerous cells are in the nasal cavity or paranasal sinuses and determines which types of cells are involved.

This information, along with data about the sinus cancer stage, helps the care team develop a sinus cancer treatment plan.

Types of sinus cancer by cell type

Sinus cancers are classified according to the type of cells involved. Those include the types listed below.

Squamous cell carcinoma: This cancer type originates in the surface layers of the head or neck, where cells are flat and “squamous,” or covered in scales. Cancer confined to this cellular layer is called carcinoma in situ. Invasive squamous cell carcinoma occurs when malignant cells spread more deeply into the tissue. Squamous epithelial cells are flat cells that line the sinuses and form the mucosa, which is a layer of mucus-producing tissue. Squamous epithelial cells may develop into squamous cell carcinoma in the nasal cavity and paranasal sinuses.

Mucosa cell carcinoma: This cancer occurs in the mucous membrane. Abnormalities in cell appearance make this type of cancer difficult to diagnose. Some mucosa cell carcinomas are categorized as “undifferentiated,” meaning they do not look like the cells in the tissue in which they developed. But some are harder to differentiate from healthy, noncancerous tissues.

Adenoid cystic cell carcinoma: Although rare, this type of cancer may occur in minor salivary glands of the paranasal sinuses.

Acinic cell carcinoma: This cancer develops in the salivary glands, particularly in the parotid glands, located at the base of each ear.

Sinonasal undifferentiated carcinoma: This rare neoplasm, or new and abnormal growth of tissue, develops in the epithelium of the nose or sinuses. It occurs when cells mutate so aggressively that it’s difficult to identify what type of cell they are.

Types of sinus cancer by location

Sinus cancer may occur in various locations around the face, such as:

Nasal cavity: Behind the nose, air passes through this opening on its way to the throat. Both nostrils lead into the nasal cavity.

Paranasal sinuses: Located around or near the nose, these air-filled areas surround the nasal cavity.

Maxillary sinus: The most common location where paranasal sinus cancers occur, the maxillary sinus is located in the cheekbones on either side of the nose.

Ethmoid sinus: Located along the upper nose, between the eyes, the ethmoid sinus is part of the paranasal sinus system. Cancers may develop in this passage, but they are not common.

Nasopharynx: Making up the upper part of the throat, or pharynx, the nasopharynx connects the nasal cavity, behind the nose and near the base of the skull. Nasopharyngeal lymphomas may occur in the air passage and surrounding lymph tissue. Though technically categorized as a throat cancer, the tumor is considered a sinus cancer because it involves the area behind the nasal cavity.

Next topic: What are the stages of sinus cancer?

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