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Nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer

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If nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer spreads

Cancer cells can spread from the nasal cavity or paranasal sinuses to other parts of the body. This spread is called metastasis.

Understanding how a type of cancer usually grows and spreads helps your healthcare team plan your treatment and future care. Doctors describe the spread of cancer in the nasal cavity or paranasal sinuses based on the structures the tumour grows into and how or where the cancer spreads.

Local spread

Local spread is when cancer that started in one part of the nasal cavity or paranasal sinuses grows into other parts of these structures. Local spread also includes cancer in the following nearby structures and tissues:

  • bones of the skull around the nasal cavity and paranasal sinuses, including the maxilla, ethmoid, sphenoid, orbit (the group of bones making up the eye socket), base of the skull (part of the skull where the brain sits), hard palate and cheek bone (zygomatic bone)
  • soft tissues of the nose and face
  • cranial nerves
  • the nasopharynxnasopharynxThe upper part of the pharynx (throat) behind the nose and above the soft palate (the back, soft part of the roof of the mouth).
  • the outermost layer of the meningesmeningesThe membranes that cover and protect the brain and spinal cord. (called the dura mater)
  • the skin of the cheek
  • an eye
  • the brain

Lymphatic spread

Lymphatic spread is when cancer that started in the nasal cavity or paranasal sinuses spreads to lymph nodes in the head and neck (called cervical lymph nodes). Cancer that spreads to these lymph nodes from the nasal cavity or paranasal sinuses generally follows a predictable path. Cancer may spread to lymph nodes on the same side of the neck as the tumour, on the opposite side of the neck or on both sides of the neck.

Distant spread

Distant spread, or metastases, is uncommon with cancer that starts in the nasal cavity or paranasal sinuses. It may occur when advanced tumours have spread to the lymph nodes. The chance of developing distant metastases increases with the number of lymph nodes that have cancer.

The most common distant sites where cancer that started in the nasal cavity or paranasal sinuses spreads are the:

  • lungs (the most common place where this type of cancer spreads)
  • liver
  • the spine

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