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Treatment options for nasal and sinus cancer

Men and women discussing nasal and sinus cancer

This page has information about the treatments you can have for nasal cavity or sinus cancer. You can find information about

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Treatment options for nasal and sinus cancer

As with many types of cancer, diagnosing your nasal cavity or paranasal sinus cancer early means it will be easier to control and possibly cure. These cancers can be treated with surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. You may have one of these treatments alone or a combination. Your doctor will plan your treatment according to

  • The type of cancer you have you have
  • Whether the cancer has spread (the stage)
  • What the cells look like under a microscope (the grade)
  • Your general health

Surgery alone will cure some tumours, but others will respond better to radiotherapy. Your specialist may advise that surgery is the best treatment for you because of the stage or position of your cancer. In other circumstances, it may be better to have radiotherapy (with or without chemotherapy) because you may have fewer problems after treatment with eating or speaking, for example.

In some situations you may have a choice between types of treatment. Making the choice can be difficult, but your doctor and specialist head and neck cancer nurse will be able to help you decide which is best for you.

If your cancer has spread

If your cancer has spread to another part of your body, surgery to remove the original tumour will not cure your cancer. But it may help to control your symptoms and disease. You may also be offered radiotherapy or chemotherapy.

 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the treating nasal cancer section.

 

 

How your doctor decides on your treatment

As with many types of cancer, diagnosing your nasal cavity or paranasal sinus cancer early means it will be easier to control and possibly cure. These cancers can be treated with

You may have one of these treatments alone or a combination. Your doctor will plan your treatment according to

There is more detailed information on surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy for nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancers in this section of CancerHelp UK.

A combination of treatments may be the best way of removing or controlling your cancer. Surgery alone will cure some tumours, but others will respond better to radiotherapy.

On the next page, there are descriptions of the most common treatments for each type and stage of nasal and sinus cancer.

 

Choosing your treatment

Your specialist may advise that surgery is the best treatment for you because of the stage or position of your cancer. In other circumstances, it may be better to have radiotherapy (with or without chemotherapy) because you may have fewer problems after treatment with eating or speaking, for example.

In some situations you may have a choice between types of treatment. Making the choice can be difficult, but your doctor and specialist head and neck cancer nurse will be able to help you decide which is best for you.

You may wish to get a second opinion before you have your treatment. A second opinion may confirm what your own specialist has said, but can give you more information and help you feel more confident about your treatment plan. Most doctors are happy to refer you to another specialist for a second opinion if you want one.

Remember - a second opinion means just that. It does not mean that the second doctor will take over your care. Your original specialist will usually still manage your treatment.

 

Surgery

Surgery is a common treatment for nasal cavity and paranasal sinus tumours. The type of operation you have will depend on where your tumour is and its size. For some very early stage cancers of the nasal cavity and paranasal sinuses, it may also be possible to remove the tumour under local or general anaesthetic using laser surgery. The surgeon uses a narrow, intense beam of light to cut out the cancer. The laser beam works like a surgical knife (scalpel). But for larger tumours you will need a bigger operation and a general anaesthetic.

If you have surgery, your surgeon will examine the area around your tumour during your operation. They may remove some of the lymph nodes from around your tumour. This is to try and get rid of any remaining cancer cells and stop the cancer from coming back.

If your cancer has already spread to lymph nodes in your neck, then you may need to have all the nodes on one or both sides of your neck removed. You may hear your doctor call this operation a 'modified radical or radical neck dissection’. There is more detailed information about removing lymph nodes and neck dissection in the surgery for nasal and sinus cancers section of CancerHelp UK.

 

Radiotherapy

Radiotherapy alone is used to treat some types of nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancers that have not spread. It will cure most people with small tumours of the nose (nasal cavity). One advantage of radiotherapy is that you do not have any tissue removed. So generally, it will cause less of a change to your appearance than surgery.

If you are having an operation, your doctor may recommend that you have radiotherapy after surgery. This will get rid of any cancer cells that might have been left behind, which lowers the risk of the cancer coming back.

There is more about radiotherapy for nasal and sinus cancers in this section of CancerHelp UK.

 

Chemotherapy

You may have chemotherapy

  • Before or after surgery or radiotherapy
  • To treat some nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancers that have spread to other parts of the body
  • If your cancer has come back after surgery and radiotherapy
  • During a course of radiotherapy (chemoradiation) for locally advanced cancer

Reports so far show that giving chemotherapy at the same time as radiotherapy (called chemoradiation) can work better than radiotherapy on its own for many people. There is more about chemotherapy for nasal and sinus cancers in this section of CancerHelp UK.

 

Biological therapy

Biological therapies are treatments made or developed from naturally occurring body substances. You may have a biological therapy called cetuximab (also known as Erbitux)

  • Alongside radiotherapy for locally advanced squamous cell nasal or sinus cancer
  • In clinical trials in combination with platinum based chemotherapy for squamous cell cancer that has come back or has spread to other parts of the body

There is information about biological therapies for nasal and sinus cancer in this section of CancerHelp UK.

 

If your cancer has spread

If your cancer has already spread to another part of your body, surgery to remove the tumour in your nasal cavity or paranasal sinuses will not cure your cancer. But surgery may help to control your symptoms and disease. For example, if your tumour is large and beginning to block your airway, your doctor may recommend surgery to remove all or part of the tumour. This will make your breathing easier. Your doctor may also suggest

Treatments that are still in development may be another option for you. This will mean going on a clinical trial. There is information about treatments in development in the nasal and sinus cancer research section.

If your cancer has spread, your doctor is also likely to refer you to a palliative care team. This is a group of health care professionals who specialise in looking after people whose cancer is not curable.

Some people feel very upset when their doctor suggests this. They assume that it must mean they are going to die very soon. But this is very often not the case. And it doesn’t always mean that the doctors who have been caring for you up until now won’t go on being involved in your care. Palliative care means helping to

  • Control any symptoms you have, such as pain, sickness or breathing problems
  • Support you with both physical care and psychological care
  • Planning to ensure the best possible care is arranged before going home from hospital

Palliative treatment to control symptoms can include treatment to shrink cancer, if that is likely to help. Palliative care also includes caring for people in the terminal stages of their illness.

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Updated: 27 November 2012