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Risks and causes

Find out about the possible risks and causes of nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancers.

How common nasal and sinus cancer is

Cancer of the nasal cavity and sinuses is rare. Only around 400 cases are diagnosed in the UK each year. Compared with around 41,300 cases of bowel cancer diagnosed each year, you can see how rare it is.

Factors that increase your risk

We do know that a few things can increase your risk, including the following:


Smoking increases your risk of nasal cavity cancer. If you smoke 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. Stopping smoking is the best thing you can do for your health and will reduce the risk of developing cancer. 

Exposure to some substances at work

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. 

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 around 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

Human papilloma virus (HPV)

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.

More than 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.

Radiotherapy for hereditary retinoblastoma

A long term follow up study has shown an increased risk of nasal cancer in people treated with radiotherapy for hereditary retinoblastoma compared to the general population.

Factors that may increase your risk

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.

Previous non Hodgkin lymphoma

A study has shown that people who have had non Hodgkin lymphoma may have a higher risk of nasal cavity cancer compared to the general population.

Last reviewed: 
18 Apr 2018
  • Detection of human papillomavirus in sinonasal carcinoma: systematic review and meta-analysis.
    K Syrjänen and S Syrjänen
    Hum Pathol. 2013 Jun;44(6):983-91. doi: 10.1016/j.humpath.2012.08.017. Epub 2012 Dec 17.

  • Paranasal sinus cancer 

    Paolo Bossi and others

    Critical Reviews in Oncology/Hematology February 2016. 98: 45–61

  • Cause-specific mortality in long-term survivors of retinoblastoma.
    CL Yu and others
    J Natl Cancer Inst. 2009 Apr 15;101(8):581-91. doi: 10.1093/jnci/djp046. Epub 2009 Apr 7.

  • Preventable exposures associated with human cancers.
    VJ Cogliano and others
    J Natl Cancer Inst. 2011 Dec 21;103(24):1827-39. doi: 10.1093/jnci/djr483. Epub 2011 Dec 12.

  • The burden of occupational cancer in Great Britain - Sinonasal cancer
    Prepared by the Health and Safety Laboratory, the Institute of Occupational Medicine and Imperial College London for the Health and Safety Executive 2012

  • Second primary cancers among 109 000 cases of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
    P Brennan and others
    Br J Cancer. 2005 Jul 11;93(1):159-66.

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