Our 24/7 cancer helpline provides information and answers for people dealing with cancer. We can connect you with trained cancer information specialists who will answer questions about a cancer diagnosis and provide guidance and a compassionate ear.
Our highly trained specialists are available 24/7 via phone and on weekdays can assist through video calls and online chat. We connect patients, caregivers, and family members with essential services and resources at every step of their cancer journey. Ask us how you can get involved and support the fight against cancer. Some of the topics we can assist with include:
For medical questions, we encourage you to review our information with your doctor.
Chemotherapy (chemo) is treatment with anti-cancer drugs that are injected into a vein or taken by mouth. These drugs enter the blood and reach most areas of the body.
If you smoke, you should quit. Smoking during chemotherapy treatment can cause more side effects and can cause the chemo drugs to not work as well. It can give you a higher chance of getting an infection and is linked to worse outcomes. Smoking also increases the risk of the cancer coming back after treatment and of getting another new cancer. Quitting smoking (before treatment starts, if possible) is the best way to improve your chances of survival. It is never too late to quit.
Chemo may be used at different times during treatment for nasal cavity and paranasal sinuses:
Chemoradiation is chemotherapy given at the same time as radiation. This combination has been shown to work better to shrink some of these tumors than using either treatment alone. It also might help lower the chance of cancer coming back after treatment (cancer recurrence) for some types of cancer.
Chemo drugs for nasal cavity or paranasal sinus cancer are given into a vein (IV), often as an infusion over a certain period of time. This can be done in a doctor’s office, infusion center, or in a hospital setting.
Often, a slightly larger and sturdier IV access is required in the vein system to administer chemo. These are known as central venous catheters (CVCs), central venous access devices (CVADs), or central lines. They are used to put medicines, blood products, nutrients, or fluids right into your blood. They can also be used to take blood for testing. There are many different kinds of CVCs. The most common types are the port and the PICC line.
Chemo is given in cycles, followed by a rest period to give you time to recover from potential chemotherapy-related side effects. Cycles can be given weekly or every 3 weeks, but the schedule varies depending on the drugs used. For example, with some drugs, the chemo is given only on the first day of the cycle. With others, it is given for a few days in a row, or once a week. Then, at the end of the cycle, the chemo schedule repeats to start the next cycle.
Adjuvant or neoadjuvant chemo can be given over weeks or months, depending on the drugs used. The length of treatment depends on how well it is working and what side effects you might have. If you have any questions regarding chemotherapy discuss them with your medical oncologist.
Chemo for nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancers may include a combination of several drugs. These cancers are rare, so there aren’t many studies to help doctors decide the best way to treat them. Often, doctors treat them with the same drugs that are used for other, more common, cancers of the head and neck.
The most common types of nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancers–squamous cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma, and adenoid cystic carcinoma–can be grouped together as carcinomas. Some of the chemo drugs commonly used to treat carcinomas include:
The drugs used depend on many things, including the type of cancer, the extent of the cancer, the person’s overall health, and whether chemo is combined with radiation therapy. Chemotherapy drugs used first include cisplatin or carboplatin alone, or in combination with 5-FU, but other combinations are also available. For people who cannot tolerate chemo, the targeted therapy drug, cetuximab, is often used with radiation instead.
Different chemo drugs are used for nasal cavity and paranasal sinus sarcomas and melanomas. Information about chemotherapy for sarcomas may be found in Sarcoma: Adult Soft Tissue Cancer. Chemo for melanoma is covered in Melanoma Skin Cancer.
Chemo drugs attack cells that are dividing quickly, which is why they work against cancer cells. But other cells in the body, such as those in the lining of the mouth and intestines, and the hair follicles, are also dividing quickly. These cells can be affected by chemo too, which can lead to side effects.
The side effects of chemotherapy depend on the type and dose of specific drugs used and how long you take them. Short-term side effects of chemo can include:
Chemo can also affect the blood-forming cells in the bone marrow, which can lead to:
Although most side effects get better once treatment is stopped, some can last a long time or even last forever. If your doctor plans treatment with chemotherapy, be sure to discuss the drugs that will be used and the possible side effects. Once chemotherapy is started, let your health care team know if you have side effects, so they can be treated. There are ways to prevent or treat many of the side effects related to chemotherapy. For instance, there are many drugs that can help prevent or treat nausea and vomiting. Sometimes, the doses of the chemo drugs may need to be lowered or treatment may need to be delayed or stopped to help keep the problem from getting worse.
Other side effects only happen with certain drugs. Ask your cancer care team about the possible side effects of the specific drugs you are getting. For example:
Neuropathy (nerve damage) is a common side effect of cisplatin, docetaxel, and paclitaxel which can lead to numbness, tingling, or even pain in the hands and feet. The nerve damage caused by cisplatin can also cause hearing loss. This may improve once treatment is stopped, but it can last a long time in some people. If you'll be getting any of the drugs mentioned here, talk with your doctor about the side effects before chemo starts, and let them know right away if you develop numbness and tingling sensations or other side effects.
Hand-foot syndrome can develop during treatment with capecitabine or 5-FU (when it is given as a continuous infusion). It can start out as redness in the hands and feet, and then might progress to pain and sensitivity in the palms and soles. If it worsens, skin may blister or peel, sometimes leading to painful sores. It’s important to tell your doctor right away about any early symptoms, such as redness or sensitivity, so that steps can be taken to keep things from getting worse.
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.
Leeman JE, Katabi N, Wong, RJ, Lee NY, Romesser PB. Chapter 65 - Cancer of the Head and Neck. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Doroshow JH, Kastan MB, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff’s Clinical Oncology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier; 2020.
Lund VJ, Clarke PM, Swift AC, et al. Nose and paranasal sinus tumours: United Kingdom National Multidisciplinary Guidelines. J Laryngol Otol. 2016 May;130(S2):S111-S118.
Mendenhall WM, Dziegielewski PT, and Pfister DG. Chapter 45- Cancer of the Head and Neck. In: DeVita VT, Lawrence TS, Rosenberg SA, eds. DeVita, Hellman, and Rosenberg’s Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. 11th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2019.
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.
National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN). NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology: Head and Neck Cancers. V.2.2020 – June 09, 2020. Accessed at www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/pdf/head-and-neck.pdf on November 06, 2020.
National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN). NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology: Smoking Cessation. V.1.2020. Accessed at https://www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/pdf/smoking.pdf on November 6, 2020.
Ock CY, Keam B, Kim TM, et al. Induction chemotherapy in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma of the paranasal sinus and nasal cavity: a role in organ preservation. Korean J Intern Med. 2016;31(3):570-578.
Robin TP, Jones BL, Gordon OM, et al. A comprehensive comparative analysis of treatment modalities for sinonasal malignancies. Cancer. 2017;123(16):3040-3049.
Scangas GA, Eloy JA, Lin DT. The Role of Chemotherapy in the Management of Sinonasal and Ventral Skull Base Malignancies. Otolaryngol Clin North Am. 2017;50(2):433-441.
Last Revised: April 19, 2021
Donate now so we can continue to provide access to critical cancer information, resources, and support to improve lives of people with cancer and their families.