Types of Sinonasal Cancer

Sinonasal cancer develops in the nasal cavity, which is the space behind the nostrils, and the paranasal sinuses, the air-filled cavities on either side of the nose. Together, the nasal and paranasal cavities moisten, warm, and filter air before it enters the trachea, or windpipe. The trachea carries air to the lungs.

Most sinonasal tumors occur in the maxillary sinuses, located on either side of the nose in the cheekbone area; or in the ethmoid sinuses, located between the eyes near the bridge of the nose. Rarely, tumors form in the frontal sinuses, located above the brows and near the center of the forehead, and the sphenoid sinuses, which sit farther back in the head near the optic nerve, which runs from the eyes to the brain.

NYU Langone doctors are experts at identifying and managing all types of sinonasal cancer. The most common types include squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

The most common type of sinonasal cancer is squamous cell carcinoma, in which cancer develops in the cells of the mucosa, the membrane that lines the nasal cavity and sinuses.


The nasal cavity and paranasal sinuses contain small, also called minor, salivary glands, which produce secretions that help keep the sinuses moist. Adenocarcinoma forms in the microscopic glands in the lining of the nose and paranasal sinuses. These types of tumors can sometimes spread to other areas of the body.

Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma

Adenoid cystic carcinoma is a rare form of adenocarcinoma. It tends to spread along the nerves in the head and neck and to the lungs.

Mucosal Melanoma

While melanoma usually arises in melanocytesā€”the cells that create pigment, or color, in the skinā€”it can also develop in the mucous-producing tissue of the nasal cavity and paranasal sinuses. This is called mucosal melanoma.


Esthesioneuroblastoma develops in the olfactory nerve, which is responsible for a personā€™s sense of smell. This form of sinonasal cancer can grow through the cribriform plate, a bony barrier in the skull that separates the brain from the nasal cavity.


Lymphoma develops in lymphocytes, white blood cells that help fight infections, and can affect any part of the body. Sinonasal lymphomas are usually classified as non-Hodgkin lymphoma and require different treatments, usually nonsurgical, than those typically used for sinonasal cancer.