Nose cancer - causes, symptoms and therapy

Nose cancer - causes, symptoms and therapy

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With a frequency of just one percent, which nasal cancer accounts for all tumor diseases, the type of cancer is relatively rare. However, if such a carcinoma actually exists, it can have devastating consequences if it is not treated in time. Whole areas of the nose and, in the worst case, even complete halves of the face had to be removed in the past to prevent further spread of the nasal cancer. Early detection of early symptoms is therefore essential if the cancer is to be removed successfully and without major complications. Learn more about typical warning signs and appropriate treatment options below.


The term nose cancer is actually somewhat misleading because there are different types of cancer in the nose area. For example, it can be a cell degeneration in the nose that mostly affects the nasal mucous membranes, bony structures, lymph nodes or glands of the nose. A delicate matter, because from a certain size these carcinomas threaten the integrity and functionality of the nose and that of the structures surrounding the nose. The most important cancer variants in the interior of the nose are the cancers listed below.

Nasopharyngeal cancer (nasopharyngeal cancer)

If the nasal cancer is really localized within the nose, it is usually nasopharyngeal cancer. It usually begins in the area of ​​the nasopharynx, but can later spread to the nasal cavity, the paranasal sinuses and, in the worst case, even to the cranial nerves. It can be seen that this form of nasal cancer is particularly dangerous since it poses a serious threat to brain functions in the advanced stage of the disease. Eyesight can also be seriously affected by nasopharyngeal cancer, since the tumor inevitably also passes through the eye socket on its way to the brain region, which can lead to eye cancer developing as a daughter ulcer based on metastases.

Lymph gland cancer in the nose (nasal lymphoma)

The lymph nodes are often mistakenly called lymph glands. The naming incorrectly suggests that lymphoid cancer describes a degeneration of glandular tissue. In fact, the lymph nodes are only gland-like functional units of the lymphatic system, which is why the term lymphoma applies better to lymph gland cancer. Such lymphomas can also occur in the nose. Corresponding lymph nodes are located in the nasopharynx area and not only cause an annoying feeling of a foreign body in the presence of carcinoma, but also entail the risk of body-wide spreading of the lymphomas via the lymph channels. Nose lymphoma is not to be trifled with.

Nasal cancer (adenocarcinoma)

Unlike lymphomas, adenocarcinomas actually arise from degenerate glandular tissue. In the case of the nose, these are the glands of the nasal mucosa. Such carcinomas often occur in combination with an increased formation of cysts in the area of ​​the nasal mucosa. Increased mucus formation in the nose is also a typical side effect.

Bone tumor (osteoma)

A bone tumor can also be located in the nose. It develops in the bony structures of the nose, i.e. either on the nasal bone, the ethmoid bone, the paranasal sinuses or the frontal sinus. It is a benign tumor that can be easily removed by targeted surgery. However, osteomas grow relatively slowly and only cause clear symptoms above a certain size, such as a feeling of pressure in the nose or headache.

Bone-like tissue growths (ossifying fibroma)

Ossifying fibroma, as a form of nasal cancer, is a degeneration of the connective tissue within the paranasal sinuses, which results in new bone-like tissue formation. Since fibromas of this type can spread rapidly and, in addition to the paranasal sinuses, other bone structures of the face (e.g. the jaw) can also be detected, surgical removal is often tricky and associated with a high rate of recurrence.

Carcinoma of the nose (papilloma)

Cell degeneration in the area of ​​the nasal mucosa is also very complicated. Although they are generally considered benign tissue growths, they can turn into malignant carcinoma later in the course of the disease and thereby destroy large parts of the surrounding tissue. Surgical removal is possible but, similar to ossifying fibroma, involves a high relapse rate.

Cancer in the outer nose area

Cancer variants on the outside of the nose mostly represent a special form of skin cancer that develops specifically on the surface of the nose or in the upper layers of the skin of the bridge of the nose. With the exception of black skin cancer, these forms of cancer are generally much more harmless than forms of cancer in the inside of the nose. However, this only applies if they are treated early.

Black skin cancer (malignant melanoma)
Black skin cancer is one of the dermal and thus external types of nasal cancer. It arises from degenerate pigment cells and can basically develop at any part of the body. However, since the nose is particularly exposed to UV radiation and the pigment cells located there are also particularly stressed, the nasal skin is one of the special risk areas for skin cancer. The particular danger of malignant melanoma is that it tends to develop daughter ulcers if it is not treated in time. Typical signs of black skin cancer on the nose are oozing and possibly bleeding skin areas. Increased itching is also conceivable, but it must not be treated with scratching, as the bleeding would otherwise increase and negatively affect the course of the disease. However, malignant nasal carcinoma does not usually cause pain.

Basal cell carcinoma (basalioma)
With light or white skin cancer variants on the nose, a distinction must be made between two forms. One of them is basal cell carcinoma. As the name suggests, the basal cells of the skin are affected, which separate the epidermis, leather and hypodermis in the form of the so-called basal membrane (stratum basale). In contrast to malignant black skin cancer, the special form of white skin cancer may be “only” a semi-malignant tumor, the late consequences for the nose and face can be devastating if not treated. Metastases in deeper tissue sections of the nose, as well as in other areas of the face and even on the ears, cannot be excluded in the advanced stage of this aggressively growing type of tumor. In addition, the ability of the skin to regenerate decreases in the course of cancer, because the basal cells are normally responsible for dermal cell renewal and, if necessary, convert into any required skin cell types. If the basal cells can no longer perform this task, the skin barrier is permanently weakened and the risk of skin damage and serious skin diseases or skin problems increases drastically. The small round papule that forms on the nose during the course of the basalioma and no longer heals is a first indication of the existing skin weakening due to degenerated basal cells.

Squamous cell carcinoma (spinalioma)
Another type of cancer affecting the nasal skin that can be attributed to white skin cancer is squamous cell carcinoma, also known as spiked carcinoma. It is comparatively rare and primarily affects people aged 70 and over, with older men being more often affected by the spinalioma than women of the same age. The nasal skin cancer is conspicuous due to cornification and nodules, which usually also appear very red and scaly. Later, there is a particular risk that squamous cell carcinoma causes metastases to form in surrounding lymph nodes in 20 percent of all cases.

Bulbous nose (rhinophyma)

The tuber nose, also known as cauliflower or potato nose, must be differentiated from nasal cancer. This is an excessive cell growth in the area of ​​the sebaceous glands and the connective tissue of the nasal skin. Due to the cell growth and the associated irritation in the nasal tissue, the nose appears very red and enlarged like a bulb. The symptoms are also typical for circulatory disorders of the nose due to excessive alcohol consumption, which is why the rhinophyma is often mistaken for a so-called "drinking nose". The nasal furuncle is occasionally confused with a rhinophyma, which is why a medical clarification is urgently required in the presence of symptoms.

It can be seen that nose cancer is not the same as nose cancer. Accordingly, the symptoms vary greatly depending on the type of cancer. For the dermal forms of nose cancer, for example, reddening and clearly visible skin changes are typical. In contrast, nasopharyngeal carcinoma is more noticeable due to breathing difficulties and foreign body feelings in the nose. However, pain usually causes neither external nor internal forms of nasal cancer. And there are also many similarities with regard to the causes.

Nose cancer due to infectious diseases

While a certain genetic predisposition is at the forefront of many types of cancer, certain pre-infections seem to play a crucial role in certain types of nose cancer. Certainly there is also a certain genetic predisposition to tumors on and in the nose, but the correlation between nose cancer and previous diseases caused by infectious agents is extremely striking.

According to a Chinese study, for example, immunological activities can be identified in a large number of patients with endemic nasopharyngeal carcinoma, which indicate a pre-infection with the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV for short). The virus is closely related to the herpes simplex virus (HSV for short) and can also lead to massive skin and mucosal damage. EPV is also associated with numerous forms of lymphoma cancer, including that

  • Burkitt's lymphoma,
  • Hodgkin's disease
  • and HIV-associated lymphomas.

It cannot therefore be completely ruled out that the virus is also involved in the development of lymphomas in the nose. Apparently, EBV favors the degeneration of certain body cells by weakening cell health.

Danger: What is particularly dangerous about the Epstein-Barr virus is that, like its HSV relative, it can sleep undetected in the body for years before the onset of the disease.

Viruses that lead to pathological skin growth prove, especially in the area of ​​nasal carcinomas, how dangerous they can actually be for the cell health of the skin. Papillomas provide another example, because the human papillomavirus (HPV) is responsible for the name. The virus is also the main cause of warts, which are also caused by cell degeneration in the skin tissue.

Another viral infection for malignant nasal tumors can also be chronic sinusitis (sinusitis). The disease arises in the majority of all cases from an incompletely healed acute sinusitis and, in addition to various virus strains, can also be triggered by bacterial pathogens. The main infectious agents are here:

  • Adenoviruses,
  • Haemophilus influenzae,
  • Influenza viruses,
  • Pneumococci,
  • Rhino viruses,
  • RS viruses,
  • Streptococci (type A)

Note: In the rhinophyma, the cause of its development can very often be identified as the copper rose known as rosacea (acne rosacea) as the triggering pre-existing disease. Although the exact causes for the development of the skin disease have not yet been fully clarified, experts now suspect that the underlying infection is due to it

  • the hair follicle mite Demodex folliculorum
  • and bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus

behind the rosacea. The infection is then said to cause neurogenic inflammatory reactions and disorders in the immune system, which initially trigger the reddening and skin nodules typical of copper rose. As the process progresses, the excessive immune response, connective tissue and sebaceous glands begin to proliferate in an uncontrolled manner. In this context, the rhinophyma can be understood as an advanced form of rosacea.

UV radiation and nose cancer

Since many forms of nasal cancer can be defined as skin cancer, excessive exposure to sunlight is of course one of the most important influencing factors in the development. Both black nasal skin cancer and basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma are Radiation triggered.

In this regard, the so-called light keratosis (actinic keratosis) is the precursor of squamous cell carcinoma in particular. Behind this is a chronic damage to the horny epidermis, which is caused by long-term intensive exposure to UV radiation from the sun. It can take several decades for this keratosis to develop. The characteristic here is an excessive proliferation of corneal cells (hyperkeratosis), which is noticeable by redness, hardening and increasing scaling. In the later course not only the cornification widened, but also further tissue proliferation in the area of ​​the squamous epithelium, which finally triggered the spinalioma.

In addition to actinic keratosis, UV radiation can also exacerbate existing skin diseases such as rosacea and additionally impair cell regeneration, which is already greatly weakened by pre-infections. The ways in which a strong exposure of light to the nasal skin can lead to nasal cancer are therefore versatile.

Certain skin properties as a risk factor

When it comes to black skin cancer, people who have a lot of moles or birthmarks are particularly at risk. Since these are skin areas with extreme pigmentation, degeneration of pigment cells on the corresponding skin areas is particularly likely. It is not without reason that regular observation of conspicuous birthmarks should take place during childhood.

Important: It's no secret that skin cancer particularly affects people with very fair skin. With such a skin type, the production of skin pigments is not very active from birth, which is why a sudden overstimulation by sunlight can easily lead to complications.

Nutritional Aspects in Nasal Cancer

It may seem a little strange, but certain dietary habits also favor nasal cancer. For example, researchers thought to see a connection between nasopharyngeal cancer and the use of betel nuts as a stimulant. The reason for this was the fact that nasopharyngeal cancer is now the leading cause of death among young men in Taiwan. After finding that many of the male patients chewed betel nuts on a regular basis, Taiwanese researchers concluded in a subsequent study that the nut may contain genotoxic polyphenols and alkaloids, which may provoke cell mutations.

Other causes

When developing nasal carcinomas, certain environmental and everyday factors associated with inhaling pollutants are often underestimated. The best example is the consumption of tobacco or snuff. The toxic additives initially weaken the nasal mucosa before they also attack the underlying tissue layers of the nose due to the decomposed nasal mucosa environment. As with lung cancer, the tobacco pollutants can lead to degeneration of the nasal cell tissue. Similar processes also cause industrial pollutants. People who are professionally confronted with toxic fumes and exhaust gases represent a special risk group. An occupational disease in this context represents nose cancer in the following occupational branches:

  • Chrome processing,
  • Tannery and textile processing,
  • Wood processing,
  • Nickel processing.


Nose cancer can be very tricky, as the many possible symptoms can also indicate other, mostly harmless diseases. So it happens that the focus falls on another illness first. It is not uncommon for sufferers with nose cancer to be treated first for one of the following diseases:

  • Hay fever, allergic rhinitis,
  • Reaction to too dry ambient air,
  • Cold,
  • Sinusitis,
  • Boil.

However, nasal cancer usually does not manifest itself in classic key symptoms, but can show up with many very unspecific signs of the disease.

Skin changes

Affected people very often describe changes in the skin on the nose. There are often red inflammatory and swollen areas that can be mistaken for a local inflammatory reaction, such as furunculosis. Knotty changes are also possible, which remain in the skin level and in the usual coloring of the complexion. Wart-shaped ulcers that turn dark can also appear. The changes can cause itching, weeping or form a crusty coating.

Changes in the secretion of the nose

Even in a healthy state, the nose secretes a light liquid film that serves to keep the nasal mucosa moist and to protect it from drying out. In the context of cancer, the design of this liquid film can change. It can change to a permanent runny nose or dry up completely. Slight blood admixtures or pus plugs may occur. Recurrent nosebleeds without a recognizable external influence is an alarm signal.

Typical accompanying symptoms that indicate cancer

There are a few symptoms that are unspecific in themselves, but when combined, can indicate a possible cancer. Many people with cancer describe in the first phase of the disease a pronounced tiredness, fatigue and poor concentration, which cannot be controlled even with sufficient sleep. This complex of symptoms is known in technical jargon as fatigue syndrome (short: CFS). Non-specific pain, such as in the joints or in the head, is also possible here.

Often there is a strong and unwanted weight loss, which is accompanied by anorexia or even disgust before eating. In many cases, lymph nodes swell, especially around the neck and armpit. However, not every lymph node swelling suggests cancer.

Other non-specific symptoms

If the degenerated tissue reaches a certain size, the growth in size can be seen in clearly visible swellings in the facial area. Changes in the sense of smell and taste are also possible.


If the above symptoms appear for more than 14 days without improvement, you should see a doctor. This will first conduct a detailed medical history and physical exam. Possible skin changes are inspected in detail and the secretion from the skin change or nose is also examined in detail. In any case, the nearby lymph nodes in the neck area and at the back of the head are also scanned. Inflammation values ​​(CRP, sedimentation rate, blood count) and tumor markers can be determined in a blood sample in order to get a first focus. This is followed by a series of other diagnostic procedures that aim to be able to find a final diagnosis.

In a rhinoscopy, examiners can use an endoscope to inspect the interior of the nose and the nasal turbinates and, if necessary, take a tissue sample. If the suspicion of cancer is confirmed, CT or MRI examinations as well as a skeletal scintigraphy follow in order to assess the extent of the degeneration and possible scatter.


Treatment for nasal cancer primarily involves the surgical removal of the degenerated tissue. Depending on the type of cancer, this can also be followed by radiation and chemotherapy.

Medical therapy

In advance of a planned operation, it may be the case that other side diseases need to be treated first in the sense of a good general condition. For example, there may have been local or systemic inflammatory reactions that should be treated with antibiotic therapy. So-called antibiosis can be applied locally in ointment form or systemically as tablets or infusion solutions.

If subsequent chemotherapy is planned, it can be helpful to fill the vitamin and mineral stores beforehand. Folsan, selenium and vitamin B12 preparations are often used for this. The supply should take place according to need and under controlled conditions, for example after checking the corresponding blood values.

Heat and cold treatment

Many forms of squamous cell carcinoma, as a result of long-term sun exposure, can now even be prevented. As soon as a dermatologist has discovered light keratosis as a precursor to spinalioma, it is possible to either remove the affected skin area with a laser or have it cryotherapy with ice. For the latter treatment method, dermatologists use liquid nitrogen, which is applied to the keratosis at regular intervals of one month until it has completely healed. Alternatively, photodynamic therapy (short: PDT) is also available. Here the keratose is pretreated with a finished drug made of 5-aminolevulinic acid and after a short exposure time it is irradiated with cold red light, which has the same cryotic effect.

Surgical therapy

As a rule, those with nasal cancer expect surgery. This can take place on a small scale, for example by removing minor skin changes. In some cases, however, the degeneration of the tissue has progressed so far that the surgeon cannot avoid removing larger parts or even the entire outer nose. Extensive removal of the degenerated tissue reduces the risk of recurrence and metastasis.

In the meantime, sufferers have a variety of cosmetic procedures available which, in the best case scenario, ensure that the defect in the face is barely visible. Plastic, so-called rhinoplasty, which can be attached to the face using various mechanisms, can also be made according to the anatomical characteristics of the person concerned.

Home remedies

Cancer cannot be treated by using home remedies, but as a person affected you can do something for your own constitution and thus have a positive effect on the healing process.

A big issue here is nutrition, especially in media reporting. There are numerous guidelines and recommendations for how best to eat as a cancer patient. And the more affected people read into the matter, the more insecure they can be at the end of the research. Some experts recommend a vitamin-rich diet that is rich in antioxidants, as these promote the removal of the degenerated cells. Others postulate an absolute ban on these antioxidant substances, as they are intended to boost the spread of cancer cells. Ultimately, those affected should discuss uncertainties with their doctor and choose a diet that they feel comfortable with. Especially in the context of radiation and chemotherapy, as well as all the side effects to be expected, it is important that those affected can eat an almost adequate diet. Any ban on certain foods could be tantamount to self-mortification.

However, those affected can get used to an important behavior in any case, namely to ensure that they drink enough fluids every day. One goal of the subsequent radiation and chemotherapy is to destroy the degenerated cells. The resulting waste products from cell wall residues and cell contents are then largely excreted via the kidneys. Therefore, it is absolutely important to always rinse the kidneys well and to stimulate their activity with an adequate hydration.


In the context of all types of cancer, naturopathy is about accompanying the cancer therapy, strengthening the self-healing mechanisms and getting rid of toxins faster. Colon cleansing and body detoxification are often recommended. For intestinal cleansing, the consumption of two to three tablespoons of crushed flaxseed in the morning cereal can be a good way to get the intestines going. The detoxifying herbs include, for example, nettle leaves, dandelion root, goldenrod herb, fennel, golden lemon balm and aniseed fruits, which can be used well as tea. Mistletoe therapy has also made a name for itself as a complementary treatment method in cancer therapy.

More options

To drive away the removal of toxins, preparations from homeopathy are sometimes used, such as:

  • Sulfur,
  • Magnesium fluoratum
  • and Lycopodium.

In addition, some homeopathic preparations are also used to alleviate undesirable side effects that arise as a result of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. You can see which remedy can be used against which side effects in the table below.

Undesirable side effectHomeopathic remedy
  • Nux vomica
  • Arsenicum album
  • Pulsatilla
difficulties swallowing
  • Belladonna
  • Barium carbonicum
  • Schüßler Salt No. 7 Magnesium phosphoricum as "Hot 7"
Weakened immune system
  • Ferrum metallicum
  • Viscum album
  • Eupatorium perfoliatum


Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • German Cancer Aid / German Cancer Society: Guide to cancer in the mouth, jaw and face area (available on June 26, 2019), krebshilfe.de
  • German Society for Oral, Maxillofacial and Facial Surgery (DGMKG): S3 guideline for oral cavity cancer - diagnosis and therapy, status: November 2012, detailed view of guidelines
  • ONKO Internet portal of the German Cancer Society: Head and Neck Tumors (accessed June 26, 2019), krebsgesellschaft.de
  • Merck and Co., Inc .: Overview of cancers of the mouth, nose and throat (accessed June 26, 2019), msdmanuals.com
  • National Health Service UK: Nasal and sinus cancer (accessed June 26, 2019), nhs.uk
  • Cancer Research UK: Nasal and paranasal sinus cancer (accessed June 26, 2019), cancerresearchuk.org
  • National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health: Paranasal Sinus and Nasal Cavity Cancer Treatment (accessed June 26, 2019), cancer.gov
  • Mayo Clinic: Nasal and paranasal tumors (accessed June 26, 2019), mayoclinic.org

ICD codes for this disease: C11, C31, C41, C76, C79ICD codes are internationally valid encodings for medical diagnoses. You can find e.g. in doctor's letters or on disability certificates.

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