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Nasal and Paranasal Cancers : Overview

The nasal passage separates the nose from the mouth and allows air to pass so that one can breathe and smell. The paranasal sinuses are the small hollow spaces around the nose, giving the upper face its shape and resonance to our voice.

There are several paranasal sinuses named after the bones that surround them:

  • The frontal sinuses are in the lower forehead above the nose.
  • The maxillary sinuses are in the cheekbones on either side of the nose.
  • The ethmoid sinuses are beside the upper nose, between the eyes.
  • The sphenoid sinuses are behind the nose, in the center of the skull.

Growth of abnormal cells in tissues of the nasal and paranasal areas leads to the development of noncancerous (benign) and cancerous (malignant) tumors. Because these are air-filled spaces, one may not have symptoms until the tumors have grown large enough to alter your ability to breathe through the nose or affect sense of smell or vision. But common symptoms can be persistent blockage of nose, loosening of teeth, lump in the upper gums, numbness around the nose, bleeding during sneezing or clearing of nose.

Different types of cells in the paranasal sinus and nasal cavity may become malignant.

The most common type of paranasal sinus and nasal cavity cancer is squamous cell carcinoma. This type of cancer forms in the squamous cells (thin, flat cells) lining the inside of the paranasal sinuses and the nasal cavity.

Other types of paranasal sinus and nasal cavity cancer include the following:

Melanoma: Cancer that starts in cells called melanocytes, the cells that give skin its natural color.

Sarcoma: Cancer that starts in muscle or connective tissue.

Inverting papilloma: Benign tumors that form inside the nose. A small number of these change into cancer.

Midline granulomas: Cancer of tissues in the middle part of the face.

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