Sinonasal Cancers


Discover how Dr. Tjoa can develop a treatment plan for sinonasal cancers.

Located between the ear and jaw, salivary glands are responsible for the secretion of saliva in the mouth. They also support oral health and help with digestion. While considered a rare occurrence, tumors can develop in any of the salivary glands in the mouth, throat, or neck.

  • Abnormal growths primarily affect the parotid, sublingual and submandibular glands, although minor salivary glands may also be affected.
  • The majority of salivary tumors occur in parotid glands on either side of the mouth and in front of both ears.

Forms of Sinonasal Cancer

Squamous cell carcinomas are the most common form of malignant tumors likely to affect sinus and nasal cavities. Specifically, it’s the flat squamous epithelial cells that line the sinuses that may become squamous cell carcinomas. Minor salivary gland cells sometimes develop into mucoepidermoid, adenocarcinoma, and adenoid cystic carcinomas.

Mucosa cells in the mucous membrane that lines the nasal cavity may be affected by a fast-growing type of cancer referred to as undifferentiated carcinoma. It’s a type of sinonasal cancer so named because cells often appear so abnormal that it’s difficult to determine where they originated from. Additional cancers that may develop or affect sinus and nasal structures include:

  • Esthesioneuroblastoma starting in the olfactory nerve
  • Lymphomas starting in immune system cells
  • Olfactory neuroblastoma in the roof of the nasal cavity

Symptoms and Signs

Early signs of sinonasal cancer may present symptoms mistaken for sinus infections or routine nasal congestion, like what’s experienced with a severe cold. More noticeable signs that a tumor may be affecting passageways around the nose and back of the throat include:

  • A bloody or runny nose with no apparent cause
  • Double vision or other vision-related issues
  • Chronic nasal infections
  • Feeling like there’s a nasal obstruction
  • Headaches
  • Facial swelling

Diagnosis of Sinonasal Cancers

As with other cancers, diagnosis of abnormal growths in the nasal and sinus cavities starts with an evaluation that includes a patient’s history and specific symptoms. CT scans, MRIs, and other image studies are often done to identify all affected areas. A positive diagnosis of any type of sinonasal cancer is usually made after a tissue sample is taken during a biopsy and tested.

Treatment Options

Sinonasal tumors are typically treated with surgery. Cancerous tumors may also be treated with radiation to target nearby tissues that may be affected. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy could be the primary treatment if it’s determined that surgery to remove the growth is too risky, which sometimes happens with tumors in hard-to-reach parts of nasal or sinus passageways.

Some sinonasal tumors are dangerously close to the eyes and brain, they sometimes require strategic minimally invasive procedures to reduce the risk of problems with vision and brain functioning. Reconstructive surgery may be done if tumor removal results in facial disfigurement or difficulties with swallowing.

Sinonasal cancers often occur with no clear cause in people without prior history of cancer. However, patients with outward-growing lumps called papillomas, or those who are frequently exposed to airborne contaminants, may be at an increased risk of developing cancer within nasal and sinus cavities. Seeing an ear, nose, and throat specialist if respiratory infections recur or become severe may result in the early detection and treatment of any abnormalities requiring attention.