Oral somatosensory alterations and salivary dysfunction in head and neck cancer patients

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Purpose: Patients with head and neck cancer (HNC) are at high risk of malnutrition due to eating difficulties partly mediated by sensory alterations and salivary dysfunction. Clinical studies have mostly focused on taste and smell alterations, while changes in oral somatosensory perception are largely understudied. The study aimed to investigate oral somatosensory (tactile, texture, chemesthetic, and thermal) responses and salivary functions of HNC patients in comparison to healthy controls. Methods: A cross-sectional study was conducted using psychophysical tests in HNC patients (n = 30) and in age- and gender-matched control subjects (n = 30). The tests included measurements of point-pressure tactile sensitivity, whole-mouth chemesthetic stimulation, food texture discrimination, and temperature discrimination. Salivary functions, including hydration, saliva consistency, pH, volume, and buffering capacity, were also evaluated. Results: HNC patients demonstrated significantly lower chemesthetic sensitivity (for medium and high concentrations, p < 0.05), thermal sensitivity (p = 0.038), and salivary functions (p = 0.001). There were indications of lower tactile sensitivity in the patient group (p = 0.101). Patients were also less sensitive to differences in food roughness (p = 0.003) and firmness (p = 0.025). Conclusion: This study provided evidence that sensory alterations in HNC patients extend beyond their taste and smell. The measurements demonstrated lower somatosensory responses, in part associated with their reduced salivary function. Oral somatosensory alterations and salivary dysfunction may consequently impart the eating experience of HNC patients. Thus, further investigations on food adjustments for this patient group seem warranted.

Original languageEnglish
Article number627
JournalSupportive Care in Cancer
Issue number12
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023, The Author(s).

    Research areas

  • Chemesthetic sensitivity, Food texture sensitivity, Head and neck cancer, Oral somatosensation, Oral tactile sensitivity, Salivary function, Thermal sensitivity

ID: 372830196