Oral Somatosensory Alterations in Head and Neck Cancer Patients: An Overview of the Evidence and Causes

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Food-related sensory alterations are prevalent among cancer patients and negatively impact their relationship with food, quality of life, and overall health outcome. In addition to taste and smell, food perception is also influenced by somatosensation comprising tactile, thermal, and chemesthetic sensations; yet studies on oral somatosensory perception of cancer patients are lacking to provide patients with tailored nutritional solutions. The present review aimed to summarise findings on the oral somatosensory perception of head and neck cancer (HNC) patients and the potential aetiologies of somatosensory alterations among this population. Subjective assessments demonstrated alterations in oral somatosensory perception such as sensitivity to certain textures, spices, and temperatures. Physiological changes in oral somatosensation have been observed through objective assessments of sensory function, showing reduced localised tactile function and thermal sensitivity. Changes in whole-mouth tactile sensation assessed using texture discrimination and stereognosis ability seem to be less evident. Available evidence indicated oral somatosensory alterations among HNC patients, which may affect their eating behaviour, but more studies with larger sample sizes and standardised assessment methods are needed. Unlike other types of cancers, sensory alterations in HNC patients are not only caused by the treatments, but also by the cancer itself, although the exact mechanism is not fully understood. Prevalent oral complications, such as xerostomia, dysphagia, mucositis, and chemosensory alterations, further modify their oral condition and food perception. Oral somatosensory perception of cancer patients is an under-investigated topic, which constitutes an important avenue for future research due to its potential significance on eating behaviour and quality of life.

Original languageEnglish
Article number718
Issue number3
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
A funding contribution was provided by National Association for Research and Technology/Association Nationale Recherche et Technologie (ANRT) (grant number: 2020/0876), Danone Nutricia Research, and National League Against Cancer (Ligue Contre le Cancer), yet the content of the work is the sole responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the views of the funders.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 by the authors.

    Research areas

  • cancer treatment, eating behaviour, nutrition, oral somatosensory perception, quality of life, sensory alterations

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