Coronavirus and cancer

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Risks and causes

Smoking, certain substances and HPV are some of the risks and causes of nasal and paranasal sinus cancers.

Factors that increase your risk

We do know that a few things can increase your risk for nasal and paranasal sinus cancer.


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 certain occupations.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) lists all cancer causing substances (carcinogens) in humans. They list the following substances as having enough evidence for increasing your risk of nasal and paranasal sinus cancer:

  • 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.
  • Nickel compounds – a metal used to make stainless steel.
  • Isopropyl alcohol production - a type of alcohol used in household products and in manufacturing processes
  • Radium 226 and 228 – radioactive metals which can be found at low levels in nature in the air, water, soil and rocks.

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.

About 30 in every 100 cases (30%) 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.

Previous radiotherapy for hereditary retinoblastoma and nasopharyngeal cancer

Previous radiotherapy for hereditary retinoblastoma or nasopharyngeal cancer has been linked with some types of nasal and paranasal sinus cancer.

Factors where there isn't enough evidence

There are also possible risk factors. This means some researchers suspect they might be risk factors, but there isn’t enough evidence to be sure.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer lists the following substances as having limited evidence for increasing your risk of nasal and paranasal sinus cancer:

  • Chromium (VI) compounds - a chemical used in stainless steel, textiles, plastics, leather. The use of chromium is now restricted in Europe.
  • 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.
Last reviewed: 
19 Oct 2020
Next review due: 
19 Oct 2023
  • IARC Monographs on the Identification of Carcinogenic Hazards to Humans

    International Agency for Research on Cancer

    Accessed October 2020

  • 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

  • Nasal Cavity and Paranasal Sinuses. In: Pathology of the Head and Neck

    A Cardesa and others

    Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg, 2016

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