Nasal and paranasal tumors

Learn about these cancerous and noncancerous growths that form in and around the nose. Treatments include surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.

Nasal and paranasal tumors are abnormal growths that begin in and around the passageway within your nose (nasal cavity). Nasal tumors begin in the nasal cavity. Paranasal tumors begin in air-filled chambers around the nose called the paranasal sinuses.

Nasal and paranasal tumors can be noncancerous (benign) or they can be cancerous (malignant). Several types of nasal and paranasal tumors exist. Which type of tumor you have helps determine the best treatment for you.

Signs and symptoms of nasal and paranasal tumors can include:

  • Difficulty breathing through your nose
  • Loss of the sense of smell
  • Nosebleeds
  • Discharge from your nose
  • Facial swelling or pain
  • Watery eyes
  • A sore or lesion on the roof of your mouth
  • Vision problems
  • A lump in your neck
  • Difficulty opening your mouth

When to see a doctor

Talk to your doctor about any persistent signs and symptoms that worry you.

Nasal and paranasal tumors form when a genetic mutation turns normal, healthy cells into abnormal cells. Healthy cells grow and multiply at a set rate, eventually dying at a set time. Abnormal cells grow and multiply out of control, and they don't die. The accumulating abnormal cells form a mass (tumor).

If the abnormal cells become cancerous, they might invade nearby tissues and separate from an initial tumor to spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body.

Factors that may increase the risk of nasal and paranasal tumors include:

  • Smoking and being around people who are smoking
  • Breathing in air pollution
  • Long-term exposure to chemicals and irritants in the air at work, such as wood dust, fumes from glue, rubbing alcohol and formaldehyde, and dust from flour, chromium and nickel
  • Infection with human papillomavirus (HPV), which is a common sexually transmitted infection

To reduce your risk of nasal and paranasal tumors, you can:

  • Stop smoking. If you don't smoke, don't start. If you smoke and want to quit, talk with your doctor about strategies that can help, such as counseling and medications.
  • Protect yourself at work. Follow your workplace safety rules for protecting yourself from harmful fumes and irritants in the air, such as wearing a face mask.

Tests and procedures used to diagnose nasal and paranasal tumors include:

  • Using an endoscopic camera to see inside your nasal cavity and sinuses. During a nasal endoscopy, a thin tube with a light and camera on the end is inserted into your nose. The camera sends pictures to a monitor that your doctor uses to look for anything unusual.
  • Collecting a sample of cells for testing (biopsy). If your doctor finds any abnormalities during a nasal endoscopy, special tools can be used to collect tissue samples. The samples are sent to a lab for testing.
  • Imaging tests to create pictures of your nasal cavity and sinuses. Imaging techniques used to view your nasal cavity and sinuses include a CT scan and an MRI.

Your doctor may recommend additional tests and procedures based on your particular condition.

Treatment for nasal and paranasal tumors depends on where your tumor is located and what types of cells are involved. Your health care team will work with you to devise a treatment plan that is best for your particular tumor.


Most nasal and paranasal tumors are treated with surgery to remove the tumor. Surgical options may include:

  • Open surgery. Surgeons may need to make an incision near your nose or in your mouth to access your nasal cavity or sinus. Surgeons remove the tumor and any areas that may be affected, such as nearby bone.
  • Minimally invasive surgery. In certain situations, surgeons may be able to access the tumor using nasal endoscopy and special tools. The tools are inserted through your nose, and a tiny camera allows surgeons to perform the operation.

Nasal and paranasal tumors are located near critical structures in your head, such as your brain, eyes and the nerves that control vision. Surgeons work to minimizes damage to these areas.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy uses high-powered energy, such as X-rays and protons, to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy can be used on its own or after surgery to treat nasal and paranasal tumors.


Chemotherapy is a drug treatment that uses chemicals to kill cancer cells. In people with nasal and paranasal tumors, chemotherapy may be used before or after an operation. Chemotherapy may also be used in combination with radiation therapy.

Palliative care

Palliative care is specialized medical care that focuses on providing relief from pain and other symptoms of a serious illness. Palliative care is provided by a team of doctors, nurses and other specially trained professionals. Palliative care teams aim to improve the quality of life for people with cancer and their families. This form of care is offered alongside curative or other treatments you may be receiving.

Finding out that you have a tumor or cancer can be overwhelming and frightening. You can help yourself to feel more in control by taking an active role in your health care. To help you cope, try to:

  • Learn enough about your tumor to make decisions about your care. Ask your doctor about your tumor, including whether it is cancerous, your treatment options and, if you like, your prognosis. As you learn more, you may become more confident in making treatment decisions.
  • Keep friends and family close. Keeping your close relationships strong will help you cope. Friends and family can provide the practical support you'll need, such as helping take care of your home if you're in the hospital. And they can serve as emotional support when you feel overwhelmed.
  • Find someone to talk with. Find a good listener with whom you can talk about your hopes and fears. This may be a friend or family member. The concern and understanding of a counselor, medical social worker, clergy member or cancer support group also may be helpful.

    Ask your doctor about support groups in your area or contact cancer organizations, such as the National Cancer Institute or the American Cancer Society.

Make an appointment with your doctor if you have any signs or symptoms that worry you.

If your doctor believes that you may have a nasal or paranasal tumor, you might be referred to a doctor who specializes in diseases that affect the ears, nose and throat (ENT specialist).

Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot to talk about, it's a good idea to be well prepared. Here's some information to help you get ready.

What you can do

  • Be aware of any pre-appointment restrictions. At the time you make the appointment, be sure to ask if there's anything you need to do in advance, such as restrict your diet.
  • Write down symptoms you're experiencing, including any that may seem unrelated to the reason for which you scheduled the appointment.
  • Write down key personal information, including major stresses or recent life changes.
  • Make a list of all medications, vitamins or supplements you're taking.
  • Take a family member or friend along. Sometimes it can be difficult to remember all the information provided during an appointment. Someone who accompanies you may remember something that you missed or forgot.
  • Write down questions to ask your doctor.

Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions can help you make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. For nasal and paranasal tumors, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:

  • Do I have cancer?
  • Where is my tumor?
  • What other tests do I need?
  • What are my treatment options?
  • Is there one treatment that's best for my type of tumor?
  • What are the potential side effects for each treatment?
  • Should I seek a second opinion? Can you give me names of specialists you recommend?
  • Am I eligible for clinical trials?
  • Are there brochures or other printed material that I can take with me? What websites do you recommend?
  • What will determine whether I should plan for a follow-up visit?

What to expect from your doctor

Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions. Being ready to answer them may allow time later to cover points you want to address. Your doctor may ask:

  • When did you begin experiencing symptoms?
  • Have your symptoms been continuous or occasional?
  • How severe are your symptoms?
  • What, if anything, seems to improve your symptoms?
  • What, if anything, appears to worsen your symptoms?

Last Updated:

September 28th, 2021

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