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Taste dysfunction in patients receiving radiotherapy




Taste loss is a major cause of morbidity in patients undergoing head and neck irradiation.


In a prospective study, 51 patients undergoing radical head and neck irradiation at the Tokyo University Hospital were assessed for taste loss. Taste ability was measured by the taste threshold for the four basic tastes (sweet, sour, salt, and bitter qualities) plus another taste of “umami” quality using a filter-paper-disc method in patients before, during, and after radiotherapy (RT).


All tastes declined on the fifth week after the start of RT and improved on the 11th week. Anatomic pathologic analyses in rats revealed that taste buds diminished completely on the sixth day after irradiation of 15 Gy in a single fraction, and the appearance of taste buds returned almost to the preirradiation state on the 28th day.


The main cause of taste disorder resulting from RT was believed to be a disappearance of taste buds and not damage to the taste nerves. © 2006 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Head Neck 28:508–516, 2006