Healthy Living: Local News
Shedding light on sinus cancer
Story Updated: Nov 7, 2011
EL PASO, Texas (NBC) - If you're feeling stopped up, your head hurts, and your nose is running, chances are you're one of the 12 million Americans with allergy and sinus problems.
But a Texas doctor is sounding the alarm about a cancer that acts just like a sinus infection, but can be aggressive and deadly.
Melinda Sanker is savoring every moment with her daughter Challie. She's on the heels of a tough fight with cancer.
It started with what Melinda thought was a sinus infection: trouble breathing, pressure in her face, and headaches.
"Then it wasn't getting any better so I went back and again we did steroids and antibiotics for awhile. Then one morning I woke up and I could visibly see something in my nose. I didn't know what it was."
A second opinion by UT Southwestern ENT doctor Pete Batra revealed it was a malignant polyp.
Melinda was surprised
"You expect breast cancer, if that runs in your family, but you never expect someone to say you have sinus cancer at 41-years-old."
Melinda was lucky. The cancer had not spread to her brain or eyes. Surgery removed the tumor, radiation followed, and chemotherapy every other week for six weeks, and for Melinda, it was tough.
"My skin became raw and burned. My whole neck area, because they radiated my lymph nodes in my neck."
Doctor Batra says Melinda's case is rare, about one in every 100 thousand people. But he sees four or five cases like hers every week.
"They're often healthy people who are just going about their business and all of a sudden develop nasal blockage or develop nasal bleeding and all of a sudden, that have this extensive tumor and everything else comes to a screeching halt."
Doctor Batra says look for:
- Progressive nasal blockage not relieved by medications
- Severe pain or headaches
- Nasal bleeding
- And a change in vision, especially double vision
Go see an ent who has sophisticated scans and scopes if these symptoms persist.
"Many of these patients can have involvement in the brain. I've seen these tumors go clear into the eye, so there can be some serious dire consequences for delaying diagnosis."
Melinda Sanker is now cancer free. She's hoping to regain her sense of smell, but thankful to be alive, and has this warning for others.
"You've got to be on top of it and if you don't get the diagnosis that you feel comfortable with and if the symptoms persist and are not going away, go back and fight for yourself."
Melinda will have check-ups with her doctor every six months but is doing well.