[Skip to Content]
Access to paid content on this site is currently suspended due to excessive activity being detected from your IP address Please contact the publisher to request reinstatement.
[Skip to Content Landing]
Views 574
Citations 0
Original Investigation
January 2017

Chronic Sinusitis and Risk of Head and Neck Cancer in the US Elderly Population

Author Affiliations
  • 1Infections and Immunoepidemiology Branch, Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland
JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2017;143(1):25-31. doi:10.1001/jamaoto.2016.2624
Key Points

Question  Is chronic sinusitis involved in the etiology of head and neck cancer?

Findings  This study of SEER-Medicare data found that chronic sinusitis was associated with subsequent nasopharyngeal cancer, human papillomavirus–related oropharyngeal cancer, and nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer, but the strength of these associations became attenuated with longer follow-up time.

Meaning  Sinusitis-related inflammation and/or immunodeficiency may contribute to the etiology of head and neck cancer, but this effect is at most modest.


Importance  Chronic sinusitis may be involved in the etiology of certain head and neck cancers (HNCs), due to immunodeficiency or inflammation. However, the risk of specific HNCs among people with chronic sinusitis is largely unknown.

Objective  To evaluate the associations of chronic sinusitis with subsequent HNC, including nasopharyngeal cancer (NPC), human papillomavirus–related oropharyngeal cancer (HPV-OPC), and nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer (NCPSC), in an elderly US population.

Design, Setting, and Participants  We used the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER)-Medicare database to conduct a case-cohort study of US individuals aged 65 years or older during 2004 through 2011. The study included 483 546 Medicare beneficiaries from SEER areas in a 5% random subcohort, and 826 436 from the entire source population who developed cancer (including 21 716 with HNC).

Main Outcomes and Measures  Incidence of HNCs including NPC, HPV-OPC, and NCPSC.

Results  Most individuals were female (57.7%), and the mean (SD) age at entry was 72.6 (8.0) years. Chronic sinusitis was associated with risk of developing HNC (adjusted hazard ratio [aHR], 1.37; 95% CI, 1.27-1.48), particularly NPC (aHR, 3.71; 95% CI, 2.75-5.02), HPV-OPC (aHR, 1.33; 95% CI, 1.13-1.57), and NCPSC (aHR, 5.49; 95% CI, 4.56-6.62). Most of this increased risk was limited to risk within 1 year of the chronic sinusitis diagnosis, as associations were largely attenuated 1 year or more after chronic sinusitis (NPC: aHR, 1.60; 95% CI, 0.96-2.65; HPV-OPC: aHR, 1.07; 95% CI, 0.86-1.32; NCPSC: aHR, 2.47; 95% CI, 1.84-3.31). All 3 HNC subtypes had cumulative incidence of less than 0.07% 8 years after chronic sinusitis diagnosis.

Conclusions and Relevance  Chronic sinusitis is associated with certain HNCs, particularly NPC and NCPSC. These HNCs are rare, and most of the increased HNC risk is limited to within 1 year of chronic sinusitis diagnosis, consistent with surveillance or detection bias. The associations were weaker over longer intervals, suggesting at most a modest role for sinusitis-related inflammation and/or immunodeficiency.