You may not associate your nose with cancer — but a small number of people actually develop a type of nasal cavity cancer called “olfactory neuroblastoma.”

Also known as esthesioneuroblastoma, it’s quite rare but can cause troubling and uncomfortable symptoms. If left untreated, olfactory neuroblastomas can be fatal.

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Olfactory Neuroblastoma Signs, Symptoms, and Complications

Although most olfactory neuroblastomas grow slowly, some cases may progress rapidly and aggressively.

Aggressive tumors are more likely to spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body, such as the bones. The first symptom of an olfactory neuroblastoma is often chronic congestion on one side of the nose, which can continue for months or even years before a diagnosis is made. Other symptoms may include:

If the tumor extends further inside your skull, it can cause additional symptoms depending on its location:

  • Ear pain
  • Double vision
  • Seizures
  • Changes to mental health
  • Facial swelling
  • Oral problems

If your doctor suspects that you may have an olfactory neuroblastoma, he or she will perform a variety of tests to diagnose the condition, including a physical exam and imaging tests such as MRI and CT scans.

Early and aggressive treatment is generally recommended for this condition. Depending on the specifics of your case, your doctor may suggest surgery, radiation, or a combination of the two.

  • Minimally invasive surgery: A state-of-the-art, minimally invasive approach called endoscopic endonasal approach (EEA) allows surgeons to access the tumor through the natural corridor of the nose, without making an open incision. Surgeons then remove the tumor through the nose and nasal cavities. EEA surgery offers the benefits of no incisions to heal, no disfigurement, fewer complications, and a faster recovery time. UPMC is one of the nation’s leading centers for EEA surgery, and has treated more than 2,000 patients with this technique.
  • Radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Radiation therapy has been shown to lower the rate of recurrence following surgery n this form of cancer.

About Neurosurgery

The UPMC Department of Neurosurgery is the largest academic neurosurgical provider in the United States. We treat conditions of the brain, skull base, spine, and nerves, including the most complex disorders. We perform more than 11,000 procedures each year, making our team one of the most experienced in the world. Whether your condition requires surgery or not, we strive to provide the most advanced, complete care possible. Our surgeons are developing new techniques and tools, including minimally invasive treatments. Find an expert near you.