Symptoms of Sinus Cancer

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Sinus cancer symptoms are usually subtle and often go unnoticed because they mimic other benign (less-harmful) conditions like allergies, the common cold, and postnasal drip. But for smokers, industrial plant workers, and those with a personal history of cancer, persistent head and neck symptoms may be a serious sign worthy of a doctor’s visit.

The most common symptoms of nasal and sinus cancer are frequent nosebleeds and nasal blockage that is not relieved by blowing your nose. You may also experience facial swelling, loosened upper teeth, nasal pain, and double vision. This article will address the most common symptoms of sinus cancer and when it's appropriate to see a healthcare professional. 

Woman touching her face in pain

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Frequent Symptoms

Small sinus cancers usually cause no symptoms and are found incidentally, when your doctor is looking for something else. In most cases, sinus cancer is detected when you are experiencing one or several problems in the head and neck area of the body.

These symptoms, like nasal congestion and postnasal drip, can mimic a cold, allergies, or sinusitis (inflammation of the sinuses). Not surprisingly, they are often ignored. But if the following symptoms persist or don’t get better with standard treatment, you should see your healthcare provider for a physical exam.  

Signs and symptoms of sinus cancer often occur only on one side and include:

  • Nasal congestion and stuffiness that doesn’t get better or even worsens
  • Numbness or pain in your upper cheek or above or below the eyes
  • Blockage on one side of your nose, frequent nosebleeds, or mucus running from the nose
  • Postnasal drip (mucus draining into the back of your nose and throat)
  • Problems with your sense of smell
  • Loosening or numbness of teeth
  • Change in vision
  • Pain or pressure in one of your ears or hearing loss
  • Headache
  • Trouble opening the mouth
  • Enlarged lymph nodes in your neck (seen or felt as lumps under the skin)

In the later stages you may also experience:

  • Swollen glands in your neck
  • Partial loss of vision or double vision
  • A bulging or persistently watering eye
  • A persistent lump or mass on your face, palate (top of the mouth), or inside the nose

If you have sinus cancer, you will experience symptoms anywhere along the nasal and paranasal areas (developing adjacent to the nasal cavities). The most common symptoms of sinus cancer usually occur on just one side of the face due to physical blockage of one or more air spaces alongside the nose and cheek area.

In fact, research shows that 60%–70% of these types of tumors occur in the maxillary sinus in the cheek, 20%–30% are in the nasal cavity, and 10%–15% are in the ethmoid sinuses on either side of the nose.

Rare Symptoms

Sometimes sinus cancer symptoms start to impact nearby structures like facial nerves and the brain. The following symptoms, although rare, may also occur:

  • Headache
  • Changes in the appearance of the face
  • Numbness and tingling in the face
  • Loss of taste

Complications

Most of the complications from sinus cancer stem from treatment. Surgery is commonly used to remove sinus tumors. The size of the tumor will determine whether minimally invasive surgery or open surgery is used.

You will also likely need radiation and chemotherapy soon after surgery to increase your likelihood of keeping the cancer from returning. Sinus cancer chemotherapy treatments may cause various side effects, including:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Mouth and throat pain
  • Mouth sores
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Trouble eating
  • Loss of teeth
  • Changes in taste

Most treatment-related side effects go away within a few weeks or months, but some may take longer to subside.

Surgery, on the other hand, may affect your physical appearance and ability to perform everyday tasks, such as eating and speaking. Surgical complications from head and neck surgeries include:

  • Scarring
  • Long-term changes in vision, breathing, speech, chewing, or swallowing
  • Nerve damage that can affect sensation in your face and movement in your face, shoulder, or arms
  • Cancer spreading to other parts of your body (metastasis)

To help restore the appearance and functions of facial features affected by cancer or its treatment, reconstructive surgery may be an option.

When to See a Healthcare Professional

If you are a smoker, heavy alcohol user, or work with industrial chemicals, you are at higher risk than the normal population of developing sinus cancer. If any symptoms persist for more than three months, you should see a healthcare professional. Also, watch out for these additional warning signs:

  • New symptoms or symptoms that get worse
  • Signs of an infection, such as a fever
  • Losing your sense of taste or smell

A Word From Verywell

Sinus cancer is relatively rare, but if you have chronic nasal congestion, postnasal drip, nosebleeds, or a loss of smell or taste that lingers more than three months, see a healthcare provider. It’s most likely that you won’t have cancer, but it’s better to get an exam to be sure.

Sinus cancer is very treatable in its early stages, so the sooner you get a diagnosis and treatment, the more likely you are to stave off life-altering medical complications.

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2 Sources
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  1. Cancer.org. Signs and symptoms of nasal and paranasal cancer. Updated April 19, 2021.

  2. Peyraga G, Lafond C, Pointreau Y, Giraud P, Maingon P. Radiothérapie des cancers des cavités nasosinusiennes [Nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer]. Cancer Radiother. 2016;20 Suppl:S99-S103. doi:10.1016/j.canrad.2016.07.035