Cancer can cause a rotting flesh smell in the nose, but an ear, nose and throat doctor says the cause is usually benign.

The smell of rotting flesh in the nose can have several causes, says Dr. Stacey Silvers, MD, of Madison ENT & Facial Plastic Surgery in NYC, who is board certified in otolaryngology.

“A rotting flesh odor from the nose may be caused by an acute sinus infection,” says Dr. Silvers.

An acute (sudden) sinus infection usually comes with pain in the teeth, nasal congestion and fever, she adds.

The odor of rotting flesh may also be caused by a chronic (long-standing) infection of the sinuses, which can cause a buildup of old mucous in these cavities.

Dr. Silvers explains that “if mucous is not able to clear from the sinuses or the nose, it gets old and can smell bad.”

What about cancer causing a bad smell in the nose?

“The olfactory centers can develop growths (benign or malignant), and will present with loss of smell, decrease in sense of smell, changes in sense of smell or a chronically bad smell,” says Dr. Silvers.

If you’re concerned about cancer, what test should you undergo?

“A persisting smell with no evidence of sinus and nasal issues should be addressed with an MRI,” says Dr. Silvers.

Though an MRI is intimidating to some people because it requires that your entire head be inside a tubular structure, this procedure has no risks, no radiation exposure.

“If a simple sinus wash and sinus treatment does not help, consult your doctor for a possible MRI.”

The cause of a foul odor from a very young child’s nose is likely to have a different cause than in an adult; toddlers have been known to stick things up their noses.

A foreign object in the nasal cavity “can be present for over a year if not diagnosed properly,” continues Dr. Silvers.

Though cancer involving the sinuses can occur, Dr. Silvers says, “Very rarely we find cancer in the nose or in the back of the nose. 

“If symptoms of a rotting odor persist, then the person should see an ENT for a good nasal, sinus and nasopharynx exam.”

An NYC expert in ear, nose and throat care, Dr. Silvers has been named among America’s Top Physicians and Surgeons in facial plastic surgery and otolaryngology numerous times since 2003.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer. 
Top image: Shutterstock/Kleber Cordeiro

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