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Information About Cancer
Head and Neck Cancer

Diagnosis and Treatment of Paranasal Sinus Cancer

The paranasal sinuses can be generally thought of as including the sinuses, or cavities, behind your lower forehead, eyes, nose, and cheeks. The paranasal sinuses can be divided in to the maxillary sinuses (beneath the cheeks and on the sides of the nose), ethmoid sinuses (above the nose, between the eyes), and the sphenoid sinuses (deep behind the nose between the eyes), and cancers can arise in each of these structures.

Cancers in the paranasal sinuses are typically squamous cell carcinomas, meaning they arise from flat, thin cells in the epidermis lining the paranasal sinus. A number of other more rare cancers can arise in the paranasal sinus, including melanomas (from color-making skin cells), adenocarcinomas (from glandular cells, such as those that secrete mucous), and lymphomas  (from lymph or immune system cells).

Risk Factors

People who are exposed to mustard gas, isopropyl oils, volatile hydrocarbons, or metals like nickel and chromium (which occurs most commonly in the leather tanning, nickel mining and carpentry industries) have an increased risk of developing paranasal sinus cancer. Chronic sinusitis may also increase the risk of developing the disease.

In addition, tobacco use increases the risk of developing the most common form of paranasal sinus cancer (squamous cell carcinoma) although tobacco's role in other types of paranasal sinus cancer is less clear.

Improving Your Chances of Success

Encouragingly, studies have shown that you will respond better to treatment if you can stop smoking or chewing tobacco during and after receiving therapy. The Stanford Cancer Center offers free smoking cessation services to help you meet this important goal. Early diagnosis is also important because survival rates are higher when treatment is applied early.

Early paranasal sinus cancer can produce symptoms that are similar to sinus infections like sinusitis. Nevertheless, early detection and treatment of paranasal sinus cancer greatly improves survival rates, so it is important not to neglect potential symptoms, particularly if you have been exposed to agents known to increase risk.

Stanford Expertise

Cancer of the paranasal sinus is a relatively rare forms of head and neck cancer. Therefore, it is important to be seen by a team of physicians who have expertise in treating this specific disease.

Depending on the type and stage of the tumors, paranasal sinus cancers are usually treated with surgery and radiation, and in advanced cases chemotherapy. Tissues in the paranasal sinuses have many blood vessels and bleeding is one of the more common risks associated with surgery.

At the Stanford Cancer Center, you or a family member can donate blood before your surgery. It will be temporarily banked for your own use in case you need blood during surgery.

The head and neck cancer specialists at the Cancer Center have experience treating paranasal sinus cancer, and will provide you with the multidisciplinary, quality, compassionate care that you deserve.

For example, the multidisciplinary Cranial Base Center offers advanced surgical techniques that have improved survival rates for paranasal sinus cancer, radiosurgery with the Stanford-developed CyberKnife allows physicians to radiate tumors in the paranasal sinuses while reducing harm to closely situated organs like the eyes and brain, as does another advanced radiotherapy option called intensity modulated radidation therapy (IMRT), also available at the Cancer Center.

Your doctors and nurses will take care to minimize and manage treatment side effects like mucositis; and if the cancer is advanced, reconstructive plastic surgeons and prosthodontists are integrated into treatment to ensure maximum success in preserving your appearance.