Risks and causes of nasal and sinus cancers
This page tells you about the risks and causes of nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancers. You can find the following information
Risks and causes of nasal and sinus cancers
Cancers of the nasal cavity and paranasal sinuses are rare. We don’t know exactly what causes most of these types of cancers, but we do know that a few things affect your risk.
Human papilloma virus (HPV)
HPV is a common virus affecting most people at some point in their lives. There are many different types of HPV. For most people HPV doesn’t cause any harm but for some it can cause cancer. Research shows that around 1 in 5 people with cancer of the nasal cavity or sinuses have HPV.
Smoking increases your risk of nasal cavity cancer. Cancers of the nasal cavity are quite rare, even in people who smoke, but smoking does increase your risk.
Other risk factors
Over many years of exposure, some workplace chemicals can increase the risk of nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancers. Substances that have been linked to these types of cancers include, wood dust, nickel, and dust from textiles or leather.
Researchers have also looked into having a history of nasal and sinus problems such as nasal polyps, or being diagnosed with non Hodgkin lymphoma in the past. But there isn’t enough evidence yet to be sure these factors increase risk of nasal cancers.
You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the about nasal cancer section.
Cancer of the nasal cavity and sinuses is rare. Only around 440 cases are diagnosed in the UK each year. Compared with around 41,600 cases of bowel cancer diagnosed each year, you can see how rare it is.
We do know that a few things can increase your risk, including
- Human papilloma virus (HPV)
- Exposure to some chemicals
- Radiotherapy for hereditary retinoblastoma
HPV is a common virus that can cause small growths or warts. There are lots of different strains of HPV and some are high risk for other types of cancer, such as cervical cancer. Around 1 in 5 cases of nasal and paranasal sinus cancers are linked to HPV. Of the different types of HPV, type 16 is the most common with nasal and sinus cancers.
Smoking increases your risk of nasal cavity cancer. If you smoke regularly you are at a higher than average risk of developing this type of cancer.
Cigarettes contain nitrosamines and other chemicals that cause cancer. When you smoke, the smoke may pass through your nasal cavity on its way to your lungs. Your risk increases the longer you smoke. If you smoke a lot, you increase your risk even more. If you give up smoking, your risk gradually falls.
Remember - cancers of the nasal cavity are quite rare, even in people who smoke. But if you do smoke, you are much more likely to develop a head and neck cancer than someone who doesn’t.
There is more about cancer risk and smoking on our website.
Research suggests that working in some jobs increases your risk of developing cancers in the nasal cavity and paranasal sinuses. This is because they can expose you to certain chemicals. Through your job, you could be exposed to harmful chemicals that can increase the risk of nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancers.
The Health and Safety Executive produced a report in 2012 that looked at whether there were particular occupations that increase the risk of nasal and paranasal cancers. They state that about a third of nasal and paranasal sinus cancers are linked to occupation. The following may increase your risk
- Wood dust – people who work in carpentry, including furniture and cabinet makers, wooden floors and any other wood related industry
- Leather dust – shoe makers may be exposed to leather dust
- Chromium - is a chemical used in stainless steel, textiles, plastics, leather. The use of chromium is now restricted in Europe.
- Nickel – is a metal used to make stainless steel
- Formaldehyde – an industrial chemical used to make other chemicals, building materials, and household products
- Cloth fibres - people who work in the textile manufacturing may be exposed to these fibres
A long term follow up study has shown a greatly increased risk of nasal cancer in people treated with radiotherapy for hereditary retinoblastoma. There is no increased risk if the retinoblastoma was not hereditary.
There are also possible risk factors. This means some researchers suspect they may be risk factors, but there isn’t enough evidence to be sure. These include
Some studies have shown an increased risk of nasal and sinus cancer in people with a history of sinus or nose problems. However, it is possible these conditions are an early sign of nasal and sinus cancer rather than increasing the risk of developing the cancer. A few studies show an increased risk of nasal and sinus cancer in people with a history of nasal polyps.
One large study has shown that people who have had non Hodgkin lymphoma have roughly double the risk of nasal cavity cancer of the general population.
Cancers of the nasal cavity and paranasal sinuses are rare. People often worry that they are at a higher risk of cancer because someone in their family has it. This may be true of some types of cancers, but is not true for nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancers. We don’t know exactly what causes most of these types of cancers.
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