What Causes Nasal Cavity and Paranasal Sinus Cancers?

We don’t know what causes each case of nasal cavity or paranasal sinus cancer. But we do know some of the risk factors for these cancers. (See What Are the Risk Factors for Nasal Cavity and Paranasal Sinus Cancers?) Scientists believe that some risk factors, such as workplace exposure to certain chemicals, may cause these cancers by damaging the DNA of cells that line the inside of the nose and sinuses.

DNA is the chemical in our cells that makes up our genes – the instructions for how our cells function. We usually look like our parents because they are the source of our DNA. However, DNA affects more than how we look. Some genes have instructions for controlling when cells grow and divide.

  • Genes that promote cell division are called oncogenes.
  • Genes that slow down cell division or cause cells to die at the right time are called tumor suppressor genes.

Cancers can be caused by DNA changes that turn on oncogenes or turn off tumor suppressor genes.

Some people inherit DNA mutations (changes) that increase their risk for developing certain cancers from a parent. But inherited changes in oncogenes or tumor suppressor genes are not believed to cause very many cancers of the nasal cavity or paranasal sinuses.

Gene changes related to these cancers usually occur during life rather than before birth like inherited mutations do. These acquired mutations likely cause most nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancers. They may result from events such as exposure to radiation or cancer-causing chemicals. Sometimes they occur for no apparent reason.

Not all cancers have the same gene changes. So far, few specific gene changes have been found in nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancers. Several different types of cancer can start in these areas, each of which may have different changes.

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.

Last Revised: December 1, 2017

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