What Are the Risk Factors for Nasal Cavity and Paranasal Sinus Cancers?

A risk factor is anything that changes your chances of getting a disease like cancer. Different cancers have different risk factors. For example, too much exposure to sunlight is a risk factor for skin cancer, and smoking is a risk factor for many different kinds of cancers.

But risk factors don’t tell us everything. Having a risk factor, or even several, does not mean that you will get the disease. Many people with risk factors never develop these cancers, while people with these cancers may have few or no known risk factors.

Researchers have found a few risk factors that make a person more likely to develop nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer. Most of these are exposures to inhaled substances in the workplace.

Workplace exposures

People who work in certain jobs are more likely to develop nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer. The increased risk seems to be related to breathing in certain substances while at work, such as:

  • Wood dusts from carpentry (such as furniture and cabinet builders), sawmills, and other wood-related industries
  • Dusts from textiles (textile plants)
  • Leather dusts (shoemaking)
  • Flour (baking and flour milling)
  • Nickel and chromium dust
  • Mustard gas (a poison used in chemical warfare)
  • Radium (a radioactive element rarely used today)

These workplace exposures have less clear links to nasal and paranasal sinus cancer:


Some studies have found that smoking might increase the risk of nasal cavity cancer.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection

The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a group of over 100 related viruses. They are called papilloma viruses because some of them cause a type of benign (not cancer) growth called a papilloma, more commonly known as a wart. Some types of HPV can cause cancers of the cervix, vagina, anus, vulva, penis, mouth, and throat. HPV has been detected in some cancers of the nasal cavity and paranasal sinuses. These HPV-linked cancers tend to have a better outcome. But cancers of the nasal cavity or sinuses linked to HPV are rare.

Hereditary retinoblastoma treatment

People with the hereditary form of retinoblastoma, a type of eye cancer that typically develops in children, have an increased risk of nasal cavity cancer if the retinoblastoma was treated with radiation.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Banuchi V, Mallen J, Kraus D. Cancers of the nose, sinus, and skull base. Surg Oncol Clin N Am. 2015;24(3):563-577. 

Bossi P, Farina D, Gatta G, et al. Paranasal sinus cancer. Crit Rev Oncol Hematol. 2016;98:45-61. 

Kılıç S, Kılıç SS, Kim ES, et al. Significance of human papillomavirus positivity in sinonasal squamous cell carcinoma. Int Forum Allergy Rhinol. 2017;7(10):980-989. 

National Cancer Institute. Paranasal Sinus and Nasal Cavity Cancer Treatment (PDQ®)–Patient Version. August 19, 2016. Accessed at www.cancer.gov/types/head-and-neck/patient/paranasal-sinus-treatment-pdq on November 13, 2017.

Last Revised: December 1, 2017

American Cancer Society medical information is copyrighted material. For reprint requests, please see our Content Usage Policy.