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Paranasal Sinus and Nasal Cavity Cancer Treatment (PDQ®)

Treatment Option Overview

Except for T1 mucosal carcinomas, the accepted method of treatment is a combination of radiation therapy and surgery. The incidence of lymph node metastases is generally low (approximately 20% of all cases). Thus, routine radical neck dissection or elective neck radiation therapy is recommended only for patients presenting with positive nodes.

For patients with operable tumors, radical surgery is generally performed first to remove the bulk of the tumor and to establish drainage of the affected sinus(es). This is followed by postoperative radiation therapy. Some institutions continue to give a full dose of radiation therapy preoperatively for all stage II and stage III tumors and to operate 4 to 6 weeks later.[1-3] A review of published clinical results of radical radiation therapy for head and neck cancer suggests a significant loss of local control when the administration of radiation therapy was prolonged; therefore, lengthening of standard treatment schedules should be avoided whenever possible.[4]


Surgical exploration may be required to determine operability.

Destruction of the base of skull (i.e., anterior cranial fossa), cavernous sinus, or the pterygoid process; infiltration of the mucous membranes of the nasopharynx; or nonresectable lymph node metastases are relative contraindications to surgery. Surgical approaches include fenestration with removal of the bulk tumor, which is usually followed by radiation therapy or block resection of the upper jaw. A combined craniofacial approach, including resection of the floor of the anterior cranial fossa is used with success in selected patients.[5] Removal of the eye is performed if the orbit is extensively invaded by cancer. Clinically positive nodes, if resectable, may be treated with radical neck dissection.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy must be carried to high doses for any significant probability of permanent control. The treatment volume must include all of the maxillary antrum and involved hemiparanasal sinus and contiguous areas. The orbit and its contents are excluded except under unusual circumstances. Lymph nodes of the neck, when palpable, should be treated in conjunction with treatment of advanced carcinomas of the antrum. This may be unnecessary for early tumors.

Accumulating evidence has demonstrated a high incidence (>30%–40%) of hypothyroidism in patients who have received external-beam radiation therapy to the entire thyroid gland or to the pituitary gland. Thyroid function testing of patients should be considered prior to therapy and as part of posttreatment follow-up.[6,7]

Recurrent Disease

For patients with recurrent disease, chemotherapy trials should be considered. Chemotherapy for recurrent squamous cell cancer of the head and neck has been shown to be efficacious as palliation and may improve quality of life and length of survival. Various drug combinations including cisplatin, fluorouracil, and methotrexate are effective.[8,9]

Treatment of tumors of the paranasal sinuses and of the nasal cavity should be planned on an individual basis because of the complexity involved.


  1. Mendenhall WM, Werning JW, Pfister DG: Treatment of head and neck cancer. In: DeVita VT Jr, Lawrence TS, Rosenberg SA: Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2011, pp 729-80.
  2. Laramore GE, ed.: Radiation Therapy of Head and Neck Cancer. Berlin: Springer-Verlag, 1989.
  3. Thawley SE, Panje WR, Batsakis JG, et al., eds.: Comprehensive Management of Head and Neck Tumors. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: WB Saunders, 1999.
  4. Fowler JF, Lindstrom MJ: Loss of local control with prolongation in radiotherapy. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys 23 (2): 457-67, 1992. [PUBMED Abstract]
  5. Ganly I, Patel SG, Singh B, et al.: Craniofacial resection for malignant paranasal sinus tumors: Report of an International Collaborative Study. Head Neck 27 (7): 575-84, 2005. [PUBMED Abstract]
  6. Turner SL, Tiver KW, Boyages SC: Thyroid dysfunction following radiotherapy for head and neck cancer. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys 31 (2): 279-83, 1995. [PUBMED Abstract]
  7. Constine LS: What else don't we know about the late effects of radiation in patients treated for head and neck cancer? Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys 31 (2): 427-9, 1995. [PUBMED Abstract]
  8. Jacobs C, Lyman G, Velez-García E, et al.: A phase III randomized study comparing cisplatin and fluorouracil as single agents and in combination for advanced squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck. J Clin Oncol 10 (2): 257-63, 1992. [PUBMED Abstract]
  9. Schornagel JH, Verweij J, de Mulder PH, et al.: Randomized phase III trial of edatrexate versus methotrexate in patients with metastatic and/or recurrent squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck: a European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer Head and Neck Cancer Cooperative Group study. J Clin Oncol 13 (7): 1649-55, 1995. [PUBMED Abstract]
  • Updated: February 25, 2015