Taste dysfunction following radiotherapy to the head and neck: A systematic review.
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Background An intact sense of taste provides pleasure, supports sustenance and alerts the body to toxins. Head and neck cancer (HNC) patients who receive radiotherapy (RT) are high-risk for developing radiation-induced taste dysfunction. Advances in RT offer opportunities for taste-preserving strategies by reducing dose to the gustatory organs-at-risk.Methods PubMed, Medline and EMBASE were searched for publications reporting on taste, RT and HNC. Randomised trials, cohort studies and cross-sectional studies were included.Results 31 studies were included in this review. Meta-analysed prevalence of acute taste dysfunction following RT was approximately 96% (95% CI 64 to 100%) by objective measures and 79% (95% CI 65 to 88%) by subjective measures, with the majority of patients showing at least partial recovery. Long-term dysfunction was seen in ~25% of patients. Taste dysfunction was associated with sequalae including weight loss and reduced quality-of-life (QoL). Taste dysfunction was more common when the oral cavity, and specifically the anterior two-thirds of the tongue, was irradiated, suggesting a dose constraint for taste preservation might be feasible. Proton beam therapy and customised bite blocks reduced dose to the gustatory field and subsequent loss of taste.Conclusions Taste dysfunction following RT is common and negatively affects patients' nutritional status and QoL. Decisions about treatment strategies, including choice of RT modality, dose distribution across the gustatory field and the use of adjuncts like bite blocks may be beneficial. However, evidence is limited. There is a pressing need for randomised studies or large prospective cohort studies with sufficient adjustment for confounders.
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Head and Neck Neoplasms
Quality of Life
Radiotherapy and oncology : journal of the European Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology, 2021, 157 pp. 130 - 140