Causes and Risk Factors of Sinus Cancer

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Sinus cancer can happen to anyone and sometimes the cause is unknown, but certain risk factors including smoking, heavy exposure to certain substances, and human papillomavirus (HPV) put you at higher risk of developing nasal and paranasal sinus cancers.

Common Causes

Experts don’t know the exact cause of sinus cancer. For many people, the cause is a mystery. Frustratingly, some known risk factors, like your age or genetics, may be out of your control. Still, there are some modifiable risk factors that you can look out for so that you are not unknowingly putting yourself at risk. Potential environmental causes include: 

Potential Environmental Risk Factors for Developing Sinus Cancer

Verywell / Laura Porter

  • Exposure to industrial chemicals at work, including furniture making, sawmill work, carpentry, shoemaking, metal plating, and flour mill or bakery work.
  • Infection with HPV, the same virus that causes genital warts, the cause of about 30% of nasal and paranasal sinus cancers. (Of the different types of HPV, type 16 is most commonly linked to nasal and sinus cancers.)
  • Exposure to wood, leather, flour, textile, nickel, or chromium dust
  • Exposure to radium-228 and -226, once used in the paint of watch dials and also found at low levels in nature in the air, water, soil, and rocks
  • Exposure to radiation, especially radon, in old houses with cracks in the foundation and at low levels in nature in the air, water, soil, and rocks (If inhaled, radon can be damaging to lung and sinus tissues. Radiation therapy for hereditary retinoblastoma (tumor in the retina of the eye) is also a risk factor.)
  • Smoking
  • Chronic alcohol use


Some people inherit gene mutations from their parents that increase their risk for developing certain cancers, including sinus cancer, but hereditary changes are very rarely the cause of the nasal cavity or paranasal sinuses.

Some mutations, however, may be acquired as a result of exposure to cancer-causing industrial chemicals or chemicals in tobacco smoke. Of note, men over the age of 40 are at higher risk of sinus cancer than the general population, but more research needs to be done to explain why that is the case.

Lifestyle Risk Factors 

The three most important lifestyle changes that you can make to decrease your risk of sinus cancer and help lower the chance of recurrence if you do have sinus cancer are:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Limiting alcohol intake
  • Following a healthy diet

Quitting smoking is very important because the carcinogens in cigarettes not only put you at a higher risk of sinus cancer, but they can also worsen your sinus cancer and increase your risk of developing new smoking-related cancers if you continue to smoke after your diagnosis. This is the case even for people that catch sinus cancer early. 

Prolonged, heavy alcohol use has also been shown to greatly increase your risk of developing certain types of head and neck cancers, including sinus cancer. Limiting or stopping alcohol use lowers your chance of sinus cancer and of recurrence.

It also never hurts to adopt healthy behaviors like eating a nutritious diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables and low in sodium and heavily processed foods, getting regular physical activity, and maintaining a healthy weight, as research shows that these lifestyle changes always have a positive impact on your life and lower cancer risk.

A Word From Verywell

Sinus cancer is fairly rare, but certain risk factors can increase your chances of having the disease. If you have a job that increases your exposure to certain chemicals, smoke, or have HPV, you may want to talk with a healthcare professional about your risk factors for paranasal sinus tumors and what you can do about them.

Lifestyle changes like quitting smoking, limiting alcohol, and adopting healthy behaviors like eating a diet low in sodium and processed foods and rich in fruits and vegetables, getting regular physical activity, and staying at a healthy weight have also been shown to reduce sinus cancer risk.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Risk factors for nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancers.

  2. Thompson LDR, Franchi A. New tumor entities in the 4th edition of the World Health Organization classification of head and neck tumors: Nasal cavity, paranasal sinuses and skull base. Virchows Arch. 2018;472(3):315-330. doi:10.1007/s00428-017-2116-0.

  3. Di Credico G, Polesel J, Dal Maso L, et al. Alcohol drinking and head and neck cancer risk: the joint effect of intensity and durationBr J Cancer. 2020;123(9):1456-1463. doi:10.1038/s41416-020-01031-z

By Shamard Charles, MD, MPH
Shamard Charles, MD, MPH is a public health physician and journalist. He has held positions with major news networks like NBC reporting on health policy, public health initiatives, diversity in medicine, and new developments in health care research and medical treatments.