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Supportive Treatment for Nasal Cavity and Paranasal Sinus Cancers

Most of our information about nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer is about ways to remove or to destroy cancer cells or to slow their growth. But it's important to remember that helping someone have a good quality of life is another important goal. This is true in all cases -- whether treatment is being used to try to cure the cancer or to slow down cancer growth when the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

If the goal of treatment is a cure, supportive treatments can help ease symptoms related to cancer treatment side effects or the cancer itself. If the cancer is advanced, supportive treatment may play an even bigger role, helping to keep the person comfortable and maintain a good quality of life for as long as possible.

You might also hear supportive care referred to as palliative care, symptom management, or comfort care.

Pain: Pain is a significant concern for many patients with cancer. It can almost always be well controlled with milder drugs like ibuprofen or acetaminophen or, if needed, with stronger medicines like morphine or similar drugs (known as opioids). Taking these drugs does not mean a person will become addicted. Many studies have shown that people with cancer who take opioids for pain as their doctor directed typically do not become addicted.

Nutrition: Nutrition is another important concern for people with head and neck cancers such as nasal cavity or paranasal sinus cancers. Both the cancer and its treatment may make it hard to swallow. If this affects how a person eats or drinks, they might need to have a feeding tube inserted into the stomach. This tube will most likely be needed for a short time during treatment, but in some cases it may need to be left in longer.

Narrowing of the nasal cavity: Sometimes, radiation can cause the nasal cavity to get smaller or cause the nasal cavity tissues to stick together. This might make it hard to breathe. Simple techniques like gently rotating a cotton swab covered with petroleum jelly in the nose or rinsing the inside of the nasal cavity with salt water might help open the tightened area a little and make breathing easier.

Lymphedema: Some people treated with radiation therapy might be at risk of developing lymphedema in the head and neck areas that were radiated. These areas can become swollen and firm. This can be worse if the person also had surgery. Sometimes, medicines, physical therapy, or massage therapy might be helpful.

There are many other ways your doctor can help maintain your quality of life and control your symptoms. But this means that you have to be honest with your doctor about how you are feeling and what symptoms you are having. Some people don’t like to tell their doctors they are not feeling well. But talking about it allows your doctor to treat and relieve the symptoms. Getting effective treatment can help you feel better.

More information about palliative care

To learn more about how palliative care can be used to help control or reduce symptoms caused by cancer, see Palliative Care.

To learn about some of the side effects of cancer or treatment and how to manage them, see Managing Cancer-related Side Effects.

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 editors and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Galloway T, Amdur RJ. Management of late complications of head and neck cancer and its treatment. In: Shah S, ed. UpToDate. Waltham, Mass.: UpToDate, 2020. Accessed on November 16, 2020.

Mendenhall WM, Dziegielewski PT, 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.

Last Revised: April 19, 2021

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