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.

TidsskriftSupportive Care in Cancer
Udgave nummer12
Antal sider10
StatusUdgivet - 2023

Bibliografisk note

Funding Information:
The authors wish to thank Mélanie Roche, David Dayde, Justine Dubreuil, and Eloise Aubret for their support in recruitment of the patients as well as Justine Prigent and Mélinda Cherruault-Anouge for their assistance in the data collection. We would also thank GC Europe for providing the saliva kits and Jeluwerk for providing the wheat fibres.

Funding Information:
Open access funding provided by Royal Library, Copenhagen University Library A funding contribution was provided by the National Association for Research and Technology (Association Nationale Recherche et Technologie), 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 do not necessarily represent the views of the funders.

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

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