Esthesioneuroblastoma (es-thee-zee-o-noo-row-blas-TOE-muh) is a rare type of cancer that begins in the upper portion of the nasal cavity.

The area where esthesioneuroblastoma begins is separated from the brain by a bone that contains tiny holes that allow the nerves that control smell (olfactory nerves) to pass through. Esthesioneuroblastoma is also called olfactory neuroblastoma.

Esthesioneuroblastoma, which can occur at any age in adults, generally begins as a tumor in the nasal cavity and may grow or extend into the sinus, eyes and brain. People with esthesioneuroblastoma can lose their sense of smell, have frequent nosebleeds and experience difficulty breathing through their nostrils as the tumor grows.

Esthesioneuroblastoma can also spread to the lymph nodes in the neck and the parotid glands. In advanced cases, esthesioneuroblastoma can spread to other parts of the brain and other parts of the body, such as the lungs, liver and bones.

Esthesioneuroblastoma treatment usually includes surgery. Often, radiation and chemotherapy are recommended, as well.


Esthesioneuroblastoma symptoms include:

  • Losing the sense of smell
  • Frequent nosebleeds
  • Difficulty breathing through the nose

As it grows, the cancer may cause eye pain, loss of vision, ear pain and headaches.

When to see a doctor

Make an appointment with your doctor if you have any persistent signs or symptoms that concern you.


The exact cause of esthesioneuroblastoma has not been found. In general, cancer begins with a genetic mutation that allows normal, healthy cells to continue growing without responding to the signals to stop, which is unlike what normal cells do. Cancer cells grow and multiply out of control. The accumulating abnormal cells form a mass (tumor).


Complications of esthesioneuroblastoma may include:

  • Cancer that grows to invade nearby structures. Advanced esthesioneuroblastoma can cause complications if it grows large enough to invade nearby structures, such as the eyes and brain.
  • Spread of the cancer (metastasis). Esthesioneuroblastoma may spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body, such as the lymph nodes, bone marrow, lungs, liver, skin and bones.
  • Loss of the sense of smell. The tumor can obstruct the nasal passage, which can block the flow of air through the nose.
  • Complications from surgery. These complications can include spinal fluid leakage, infection, vision problems, and abscess.