Nasal & Sinus Tumors


Tumors are abnormal tissue growths that can be either cancerous (malignant) or non-cancerous (benign).

Nasal and sinus tumors are sometimes hard to detect because of where they can form. In fact, about 60-70 percent of tumors of this nature are found in sinus cavities located in the cheeks.

However, nasal and sinus tumors are rarely cancerous, although they can still be problematic.

Causes and Symptoms

It’s not specifically known why cell in tissues in the nostrils or sinus cavities become abnormal. It’s usually some type of exposure to tobacco products, certain vapors, or toxic airborne substances that contributes to the development of nasal and sinus tumors. Genetics may play a role as well.

Some of the symptoms associated with these types of tumors can overlap with what you might experience with chronic sinus infections or allergies. It is possible to have little or no noticeable symptoms and still have a tumor present. But if you do experience symptoms, they might include:

  • Nasal congestion limited to one side of the nose
  • Pain around areas where sinuses are located – e.g., cheeks, eyes, lower forehead
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Numbness felt in the face or teeth
  • Recurring ear infections
  • Frequent nosebleeds
  • Difficulty opening your mouth
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Along with discussing your medical history and performing an initial examination with handheld instruments, diagnosis typically involves the use of a fiber-optic scope to view the inside of your nasal and sinus passages to look for visual signs of an abnormal growth. If a growth is found, a CT scan, MRI, or positron emission tomography (PET) scan may be performed to determine which tissues are affected. An endoscope is often used to collect a tissue sample (biopsy) to determine if nasal or sinus tumors are cancerous or non-cancerous.


With a smaller tumor, an endoscopic procedure may be all that’s necessary to remove it. Even if the tumor is non-cancerous, removal may be the best option if it’s causing breathing problems or sinus blockages. However, open surgery may be more appropriate if the tumor is in a sinus cavity that’s difficult to reach or if cancer has spread to nearby structures. At UCI’s Sinus Surgery Center, specialized techniques may be used if a tumor has affected parts of the brain or sensitive nerves.

Some nasal and sinus tumors are treatable with radiation and chemotherapy. Other times, chemotherapy is done first in attempt to make the tumor smaller so it can be surgically removed with less risk. A combination of chemo and radiation therapy may also be recommended after surgery to reduce the risk of recurrence. Separate reconstructive nose surgery might be necessary for some patients, especially with tumors that were difficult to reach.

Anyone can be affected by nasal and sinus tumors. But men are more likely to have sinus tumors that are cancerous than women. Also, it’s more common for adults in their 50s and 60s to be diagnosed with tumors in nasal or sinus passages. As for prevention, smoking and exposure to certain environmental substances are the two most common risk factors for nasal and sinus tumors. You’ll also want to seek medical attention if you notice persistent nasal or sinus symptoms without a clear reason.