Cancer is an umbrella term for a wide range of diseases that form from abnormal cells that divide uncontrollably and have the ability to infiltrate and destroy normal body tissue.
Cancer often has the ability to spread throughout your body and treatment outcomes depend on how far the cancer has spread so it is important to recognise the early warning signs.
One lesser-known area where symptoms can show up is the nose and if you experience symptoms here you may have nasal and sinus cancer.
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According to the NHS, nasal and sinus cancer affects the nasal cavity (the space behind your nose) and the sinuses (small air-filled cavities inside your nose, cheekbones and forehead).
It’s a rare type of cancer that most often affects men aged over 40.
Nasal and sinus cancer is different from cancer of the area where the nose and throat connect.
The most common symptoms of nasal and sinus cancer are:
- A blocked nose that does not clear
- Pressure or pain behind your nose or in your teeth
- Blood when you blow your nose.
As the NHS explains, these symptoms can be similar to more common and less serious conditions, such as a cold or sinusitis.
It is still important to see a GP if you notice any unusual or persistent symptoms associated with your nose, however.
“It’s very unlikely they’ll be caused by nasal or sinus cancer, but it’s worth getting them checked out,” advises the NHS.
What can I expect from my visit to the GP?
According to Macmillan UK, if the symptoms raise concerns, your GP may refer you to a specialist for tests.
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“These may include a test to examine your nose and throat closely. The doctor may also take a small sample of tissue (biopsy) to make a diagnosis,” explains the charity.
How to treat it
Your treatment will depend on the position, stage and grade of the cancer, as well as your general health.
According to the NHS, treatment may include:
- Surgery to remove a tumour – this can be performed through open surgery or as keyhole surgery through the nose (endoscopic microsurgery)
- Radiotherapy – where high-energy radiation is used to kill the cancerous cells, shrink a tumour before surgery, or destroy small pieces of a tumour that may be left after surgery
- Chemotherapy – where medicine is used to help shrink or slow down the growth of a tumour, or reduce the risk of the cancer returning after surgery
As the health body notes, the outlook varies depending on the specific type of nasal and sinus cancer you have, its exact location, how far it’s spread before being diagnosed and treated, and your overall level of health and fitness.
Cancer of the nasal cavity generally has a better outlook than cancer of the sinuses, however.
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Who is at risk?
The exact causes of nasal and sinus cancer are not known but certain risk factors can increase the chances of developing it.
Smoking is one of the primary risk factors associated with nasal and sinus cancer, as Cancer Research UK explains: “Cigarettes contain nitrosamines and other chemicals that cause cancer. When you smoke, the smoke may pass through your nasal cavity on its way to your lungs.”
In fact, your risk increases the longer you smoke, and if you smoke a lot, your risk increases even more, warns the charity.
“Stopping smoking is the best thing you can do for your health and will reduce the risk of developing cancer,” advises the health body.
Research also suggests that working in some jobs increases your risk of developing cancers in the nasal cavity and paranasal sinuses. This is because they can expose you to certain chemicals.
The Health and Safety Executive produced a report in 2012 that looked at whether there were particular occupations that increase the risk of nasal and paranasal cancers.
The health body stated that around a third of nasal and paranasal sinus cancers are linked to occupation.
The following chemicals may increase your risk:
- Wood dust – people who work in carpentry, including furniture and cabinet makers, wooden floors and any other wood related industry
- Leather dust – shoe makers may be exposed to leather dust
- Chromium – is a chemical used in stainless steel, textiles, plastics, leather. The use of chromium is now restricted in Europe.
- Nickel – is a metal used to make stainless steel
- Formaldehyde – an industrial chemical used to make other chemicals, building materials, and household products
- Cloth fibres – people who work in the textile manufacturing may be exposed to these fibres
According to the NHS, another risk factor is human papillomavirus (HPV) – a group of viruses that affect the skin and moist membranes, such as the mouth and throat (more than one in five nasal and sinus cancers are linked to HPV).
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