Nasal lymphoma is a rare, hereditary condition. Certain workplace environments may increase your risk. Surgery or radiation therapy may help you treat or even cure this type of cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), nasal and sinus cancers make up about 3 to 5% of the head and neck cancers diagnosed in the United States. Of the various nasal and sinus cancers an individual may develop, lymphomas are the third most common type.

Although this means that nasal lymphoma is a rare disorder, it is a potentially life threatening condition that should be taken seriously. Early detection and treatment are key to improving outcomes for people with nasal lymphoma.

Lymphomas are cancer cells that originate in lymph system tissue. Because lymph tissue is located throughout the body, lymphoma can be found in many different locations. Nasal lymphoma develops in the nasal cavity, which is the space inside the nose.

As previously mentioned, lymphoma is the third most common type of cancer found in the nasal cavity and the paranasal sinuses.

One type of nasal lymphoma is non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Nasal lymphoma may cause symptoms like:

  • difficulty breathing through your nose
  • loss of smell
  • nosebleeds
  • pus or other drainage from the nose
  • a mass or perforation on the face, palate, or inside the nose
  • enlarging lymph nodes in the neck

It’s important to note that many of the symptoms individuals experience with nasal lymphoma are not specific to this condition. Your doctor can help you to determine if nasal lymphoma is the cause of your symptoms or if they’re due to another condition.

Nasal lymphoma can grow quickly.

In fact, the research noted that one type of nasal lymphoma — extranodal nasal NK/T cell lymphoma (NKTCL) — was a very fast-growing type of cancer.

However, growth rates will vary. It’s important to keep in mind that some types of nasal lymphoma develop slower, and everyone’s cancer experience will be unique.

More research into the causes of nasal lymphoma is still needed.

Although scientists have recognized that there appears to be a connection between the Epstein-Barr virus and NKTCL, more research into this and other possible causes is still needed.

In general, lymphomas tend to be caused by irregularities in the production of a type of white blood cell or the transformation of a single white blood cell into a cancer cell. This mutation may be encouraged by age, certain hereditary factors, and exposure to environmental toxins.

Some things that may increase the chance of nasal and sinus cancers, beyond just nasal lymphoma, include:

  • workplace exposure to various kinds of dust
  • smoking
  • gender (men are twice as likely as women to develop nasal cancer)
  • age (people over age 55 years make up about 80% of those diagnosed with nasal cancer)

According to the ACS, nasal cancers are more prevalent in white people compared with Black people.

A physical exam is frequently the first step in diagnosing nasal lymphoma. The doctor will check your head and neck, including the nose and sinuses for numbness, pain, and swelling. They will also check your lymph nodes and look for any changes in facial symmetry or vision problems. Your doctor may also ask questions about risk factors like where you work and what chemicals you are exposed to.

If your doctor believes that you may have nasal lymphoma they may refer you to an otolaryngologist (also known as an ear, nose, and throat doctor, or ENT). They may perform an indirect endoscopy using a headlamp and small mirrors or a nasal endoscopy with a thin, flexible tube placed through the nose. A tissue biopsy can be taken to confirm a nasal lymphoma diagnosis.

After diagnosing nasal lymphoma, your medical team will need to stage the lymphoma. To determine whether the lymphoma has spread, they may use medical imaging like CT or MRI scans and PET scans.

Surgery and radiation therapy are often used to treat cancer in the nose and sinuses.

In many cases, radiation after surgery is recommended to reduce the chances of the cancer returning. Your medical team may also recommend chemotherapy, targeted drug therapy, or immunotherapy.

Although curing the cancer is the primary goal of lymphoma treatment, it’s also important to protect surrounding tissues and organs. Your doctor will weigh many factors when reviewing their treatment recommendation, including the location of the lymphoma and the extent to which the cancer may have spread.

If the cancer is very advanced or an individual is an older adult, a medical team may choose to avoid treatment options like radiation and chemotherapy that would decrease a person’s quality of life and choose to focus instead on enjoying their time.

In these cases, you may wish to speak with your medical team about supportive care options to help ease discomfort.

Nasal cancers can be treated and cured, especially if they’re detected early.

According to the ACS, the relative survival rate largely depends on where the cancer is located:

  • Localized: If the cancer is located only in the nasal cavity or paranasal sinus, the 5-year relative survival rate is 86%.
  • Regional: If the cancer has spread to nearby tissues or organs and/or to regional lymph nodes, the 5-year relative survival rate is 52%.
  • Distant: If there’s distant cancer spread to other parts of the body, the 5-year relative survival rate is 43%.

The outlook for an individual with nasal lymphoma factors in information like:

  • the specific type of lymphoma cells involved
  • size and location of the lymphoma
  • whether the lymphoma has spread to other parts of the body
  • age
  • general health

After staging your lymphoma, your medical team will be able to provide you with more clarity about your expected outlook and the best treatment options. It’s important to remember that every individual’s cancer experience is different.

While nasal lymphoma is rare, certain work environments and hereditary factors can increase the chances that an individual is more likely to develop it.

If you notice nasal obstruction or have other nasal concerns, it’s important to talk with your doctor right away. Cancer in the nose is frequently curable if it’s detected early enough.