Canadian Cancer Society logo

Nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer

You are here: 

What is nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer?

Cancer of the nasal cavity or a paranasal sinus is a malignant tumour that starts in cells in the nose or a sinus around the nose. Malignant means that it can spread, or metastasize, to other parts of the body.

The nasal cavity is made up of the nostrils and the hollow passageway just behind the nose. The nasal cavity filters, warms and moistens the air you breathe and gives you your sense of smell. The paranasal sinuses are hollow chambers around the nose. These sinuses give shape to your face and eyes and helps give your voice its unique sound.

Cells in the nasal cavity or paranasal sinuses sometimes change and no longer grow or behave normally. These changes may lead to non-cancerous, or benign, tumours such as nasal polyps or inverting papilloma.

In some cases, changes to nasal cavity or paranasal cavity cells can cause cancer. The nasal cavity and the paranasal sinuses are made up of different types of cells that can become cancerous. Each type of cancer behaves or grows differently. Most often, nasal cavity or paranasal cavity cancer starts in thin, flat cells called squamous cells. These cells line the inside of the nasal cavity and paranasal sinuses. This type of cancer is called squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) of the nasal cavity or paranasal sinuses. Sometimes cancer can start in the gland cells of the nose or sinuses. An example of this type of cancer is called adenocarcinoma of the nasal cavity or paranasal sinus.

Rare types of nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer can also develop. These include esthesioneuroblastoma and sinonasal undifferentiated carcinoma (SNUC).

Diagram of the nose and paranasal sinuses


Parker Murchison My favourite thing about Camp Goodtime is being able to hang out with other kids who have survived cancer. They know what is going on in your life and can help you get through it.

Read Parker's story

Cancer information in over a hundred languages

Illustration of question mark

The Canadian Cancer Society’s Cancer Information Service (CIS) is Canada’s only national, bilingual, toll-free service that offers personalized comprehensive cancer information in over 100 languages.

Learn more