Is It Nasal Cancer or the Common Cold?

WRITTEN BY: CancerCenter
Thursday, March 2nd, 2017

When the weather is cold, we’re all just a little more prone to catching whatever illness is going around. But what if your runny nose is actually caused by something more than the common cold?

Paranasal sinus and nasal cavity cancer can mimic the common cold in several ways. But it’s highly unlikely that cancer is causing your wintertime woes — cancer of the nasal cavity and paranasal sinuses is extremely rare, with approximately 2,000 people diagnosed in the United States each year.

RELATED: Sore Throat? Is It a Cold, Strep Throat, or Tonsillitis?

Nasal Cancer Risk Factors

Risk factors are conditions that make a cancer diagnosis more likely, but having any of these risk factors does not automatically mean that you will develop cancer. The following factors are associated with cancers of the nose and its nearby neighbors:

  • Exposure to chemicals or dust at work (in carpentry, shoemaking, textile production, or baking)
  • Smoking

The Difference Between Nasal Cancer and the Common Cold: Symptoms and Warning Signs

The common cold produces symptoms we’re all familiar with. Cancer of the nasal cavity or paranasal sinuses also produces symptoms, some of which can overlap with cold symptoms:

Cancers of the nose can also result in more specific symptoms, particularly at more advanced stages:

  • Change in vision
  • Facial swelling or numbness
  • Tumor or polyp in the nose
  • Tumor on the roof of the mouth

So, Is It Cancer?

You can usually tell when you have a cold, but if you’re unsure, call your doctor. If your cold doesn’t go away with normal, at-home care, or if you begin to notice more serious symptoms, consider making an appointment, particularly if you have any of the risk factors for these types of cancers.

Your doctor will examine you and consider your medical history. If he or she is not suspicious that you may have cancer, you may be sent home with medications to “wait and see.” If your symptoms do not improve, you may need a biopsy and imaging tests. If you do have cancer, your care team will check to see whether the cancer has spread and put together an individualized treatment plan.

The Bottom Line on Colds and Nasal Cancer

If you are concerned, call your doctor. For more information, visit UPMC HIllman CancerCenter.

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