When a cancer starts specifically in the nerves that affect your sense of smell, it is known as olfactory neuroblastoma. (Esthesioneuroblastoma is another name for this type of cancer.) An olfactory neuroblastoma often happens on the roof of the nasal cavity. It involves the cribriform plate, which is a bone between the eyes and located deep in the skull.
Facts about olfactory neuroblastoma
Olfactory neuroblastoma is a rare form of cancer, representing only about 7 percent of cancers that occur in the nasal cavity.
Types of nasal cancers
There is only one form of olfactory neuroblastoma, but a number of different cancers can affect the nasal passageway:
These different types of nasal cancer have a number of similarities, so it's important to get an accurate diagnosis from your doctor.
A number of symptoms and warning signs can indicate olfactory neuroblastoma:
Pain around the eyes
Stuffiness or congestion that worsens or doesn't improve
Blockage of the nose
Nasal drainage in the throat (postnasal drip)
Pus from the nose
Face or tooth numbness
Decreased sense of smell
Loss of vision
Ear pain or pressure
Trouble opening the mouth
Enlarged lymph nodes in the neck
A variety of different scanning techniques are helpful in examining the nasal cavity and determining exactly what type of nasal cancer you may have. These include X-rays, CT scan, and MRI. To gain additional information, your doctor may perform a biopsy. This is done by obtaining a tissue sample and examining it under a microscope to determine what kind of cancer is present.
In most cases, the first treatment involved in a nasal cavity cancer such as olfactory neuroblastoma is surgery to remove the tumor. Often, this treatment is used to remove a wide swath of tissue around the cancer, as well, to help ensure that all the cancer has been removed. Wide local excision and medial maxillectomy are two procedures that are commonly done. These are invasive procedures that may require the reconstruction of part of the face, but these offer the best chance of long-term survival. In some instances, less invasive surgeries, such as endoscopic surgery using a thin flexible, lighted tube, might be possible.
Radiation therapy is also part of the treatment plan for olfactory neuroblastoma. This may be the primary treatment or it might be used after surgery to reduce the chances of the cancer returning. In some cases, chemotherapy may also be used to treat olfactory neuroblastoma.
Research has found that people who are exposed to harmful chemicals and particles through work or other means have an increased risk of developing nasal cavity cancers. Some possible culprits include wood dust, flour, nickel and cadmium dust, glues, and formaldehyde and other solvents. Tobacco smoke may also be a contributing factor in developing an olfactory neuroblastoma. To protect yourself, avoid these substances as much as possible.
Managing olfactory neuroblastoma
Any cancer diagnosis is stressful, but there is hope for those with a diagnosis of olfactory neuroblastoma. The best thing you can do is be vigilant about your health and have a positive outlook about your treatments. Following a healthy diet and living as healthy a lifestyle as possible may play a role in your recovery, as well as preventing a recurrence of the cancer.
Complementary and alternative therapies may help with pain and your emotional wellness during and after a bout with cancer. Some people have found pain relief from acupuncture. Meditation may help to relieve stress and improve your emotional well-being.