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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 Risk Factors for Nasal Cavity and Paranasal Sinus Cancers) and how some of them cause normal cells to become cancer. For example, 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.
The development of normal human cells mostly depends on the information contained in the cells’ DNA. 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. But, DNA affects more than how we look.
Some genes have instructions for controlling when cells grow, divide, and die:
Cancers can be caused by DNA changes that turn on proto-oncogenes or turn off tumor suppressor genes. This leads to cells growing out of control. Changes in many different genes are usually needed to cause nasal cavity or paranasal sinus cancer.
For more about how gene changes can lead to cancer, see Genes and Cancer.
Scientists believe that some risk factors, such as workplace exposures to certain chemicals and tobacco use, cause these cancers by damaging the DNA of the cells that line the inside of the nasal cavity and paranasal sinuses.
High-risk types of HPV have been linked to oropharyngeal cancers. Some high-risk types of HPV have been found in some nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancers, but because these types of cancers are very rare, more research is needed to say for sure if HPV infection causes them.
Some people inherit DNA mutations (changes) from their parents that increase their risk for developing certain cancers. But inherited gene changes are not believed to cause very many cancers of the nasal cavity or paranasal sinuses.
Gene changes related to these cancers usually develop during life rather than being inherited. These acquired mutations are often the result of exposure to cancer-causing chemicals like those found in the workplace or in tobacco smoke. Acquired mutations probably cause most nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancers, but sometimes they happen 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.
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.
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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.
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National Cancer Institute. Paranasal Sinus and Nasal Cavity Cancer Treatment (PDQ)–Patient Version. November 06, 2019. Accessed at www.cancer.gov/types/head-and-neck/patient/paranasal-sinus-treatment-pdq on November 09, 2020.
Thompson LDR, Franchi A. New tumor entities in the 4th edition of the World Health Organization classification of head and neck tumors: Nasal cavity, paranasal sinuses and skull base. Virchows Arch. 2018;472(3):315-330. doi:10.1007/s00428-017-2116-0.
Last Revised: April 19, 2021
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