Most people experience a nosebleed, or epistaxis, at least once in their lifetime. Bleeding from the front, or anterior, nasal cavity accounts for most nosebleeds. Only 5 to 10 percent of epistaxis originates from the posterior nasal cavity near the back of the upper throat, according to the American Rhinologic Society 1.
If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
Most nosebleeds stop on their own without medical treatment and typically don’t represent a significant health concern. However, recurrent or unexplained nosebleeds may indicate a serious underlying disease, including cancer.
Nasal and Paranasal Sinus Cancer
Recurring nosebleeds are a common symptom of a cancerous tumor in the nasal cavity or the sinuses, known medically as the paranasal sinuses. Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the most common type of cancer in these areas. SCC arises from the lining tissue of the nose or sinuses.
Less commonly, nasal and sinus cancers arise from bone, cartilage or another type of connective tissue. Melanoma is a rare cause of cancer in this area, accounting for less than 1 percent of cases according to the National Cancer Institute.
Nosebleeds due to nasal or sinus cancer usually recur, involve one side of the nose and typically do not cause heavy bleeding. Other common symptoms include a runny nose and one-sided nasal stuffiness, facial pain, tooth pain or ear pressure.
- Recurring nosebleeds are a common symptom of a cancerous tumor in the nasal cavity or the sinuses, known medically as the paranasal sinuses.
What Is a Nasal Bone Spur?
Nosebleeds due to leukemia may be difficult to stop, although the bleeding typically isn’t heavy. In addition to nosebleeds and easy bruising, other possible symptoms of leukemia include:
- night sweats
- bone pain
- swollen lymph nodes
- unintended weight loss
Hodgkin disease and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) are the two main types of lymphoma 5.
Since lymph nodes and other lymphatic tissues occur throughout the body, lymphoma can arise in virtually any location — including the nose and sinuses. Nasal and paranasal lymphomas are usually the NHL type. Growth of cancerous lymphoid tissue in the nose or sinuses can erode into nearby blood vessels and cause nosebleeds.
Less commonly, bone marrow involvement with advanced Hodgkin disease or NHL arising elsewhere in the body can lead to epistaxis due to reduced platelet production.
Symptoms associated with nasal or sinus lymphoma are similar to other cancers in these areas. Lymphomas arising outside of the nose or sinuses often cause generalized symptoms that resemble leukemia.
- Hodgkin disease and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) are the two main types of lymphoma 5.
- Less commonly, bone marrow involvement with advanced Hodgkin disease or NHL arising elsewhere in the body can lead to epistaxis due to reduced platelet production.
Warnings and Precautions
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Only about 6 percent of nosebleeds require medical care to stop the bleeding, according to the American Rhinologic Society 1. However, it's important to seek immediate medical attention for a nosebleed that is heavy or will not stop within 10 to 15 minutes when applying firm but gentle pressure.
Additionally, seek medical evaluation as soon as possible if you experience recurring nosebleeds. While cancer is among the less common causes of nosebleeds, it's important not to ignore this potential cancer warning sign.
Reviewed and revised by: Tina M. St. John, M.D.
- Only about 6 percent of nosebleeds require medical care to stop the bleeding, according to the American Rhinologic Society 1.
- However, it's important to seek immediate medical attention for a nosebleed that is heavy or will not stop within 10 to 15 minutes when applying firm but gentle pressure.
What Is a Nasal Bone Spur?
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- American Rhinologic Society: Epistaxis (Nosebleeds)
- National Cancer Institute: Cellular Classification of Paranasal Sinus and Nasal Cavity Cancer
- American Cancer Society: Cancer Facts and Figures -- 2016
- Journal of Bone Research: Bone Marrow Involvement in Hodgkin and Non-Hodgkin Lymphomas: The Role of Fluorine-18-Fluorodeoxyglucose Positron Emission Tomography/Computed Tomography
- American Cancer Society: Types of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma
- ENT Health. Nosebleeds. Updated August 2018.
- Cleveland Clinic. Nosebleeds (epistaxis). Updated October 23, 2019.
Sylvie Tremblay holds a Master of Science in molecular and cellular biology and has years of experience as a cancer researcher and neuroscientist. Based in Ontario, Canada, Tremblay is an experienced journalist and blogger specializing in nutrition, fitness, lifestyle, health and biotechnology, as well as real estate, agriculture and clean tech.