About surgery for nasal and sinus cancer

Surgery is a common treatment for nasal and paranasal sinus cancer, but it is complex and only a specialist surgeon can do it. 

Surgery of the nasal cavity and paranasal sinuses

Surgery for nasal and paranasal sinus cancer is very specialised. This part of the body is complex and has many important nerves and blood vessels. So planning and doing the surgery is difficult. Only a specialist surgeon can do your operation. 

Your surgeon will consider carefully how your face will look and work after surgery. The main aim is to remove the cancer. Along with this, they will try to remove only a small amount of healthy tissue and bone around the area.

Removing lymph nodes in the neck

In some people, nasal or paranasal sinus cancer can spread to the lymph nodes in the neck. In people with paranasal sinus cancer, this happens in about 10 out of every 100 people (10%) with squamous cell cancer and 4 out of every 100 people (4%) with adenocarcinoma.

Diagram showing the lymph nodes in the head and neck

If tests show that there is cancer in the lymph nodes, you might have surgery to remove the nodes. Or you might have radiotherapy to the lymph nodes. Removing the lymph nodes is called a neck dissection.

Your doctors and surgeons

You have treatment from a team of specialist surgeons. The team may include:

  • an ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgeon (otorhinolaryngologists)
  • a maxillofacial surgeon who is a specialist in surgery of the mouth, jaw, face and neck
  • a plastic surgeon who is a specialist in moulding and rebuilding the surface and deep structures of the body
  • a prosthodontist who is a dentist trained to make replacements for missing teeth or any other structure of the mouth

Because these types of cancers can spread to the eyes or inside the skull you might also get treatment from:

  • an eye doctor (ophthalmologist)
  • a surgeon who specialises in surgery to the brain and nervous system (a neurosurgeon)

How you might be affected

Surgery for nasal and paranasal sinus cancer may affect you in one or more of the following ways:

  • how you breathe
  • how you chew and swallow
  • your sense of smell
  • how you see
  • how you hear
  • how you speak

How you might be affected will depend on the position of your cancer and the type of operation you have.

These changes may happen because your face and neck are swollen and sore after surgery. They will usually reduce or disappear once you start to heal. Swelling might also change how you look, but this will usually get better too.

You might have some permanent changes in what you can do and the way you look. 

Before you have the surgery, your doctor will discuss the side effects with you.

Surgery to relieve symptoms

Your doctor might suggest surgery to relieve symptoms even if it can't cure your cancer. This is called palliative surgery. 

An operation can remove part of the cancer to reduce symptoms. It will give you a better quality of life for longer. You might have this treatment when cancer is blocking a part of your nose, making it difficult to breathe.