Taste and smell alterations, quality of life and food characterization among patients treated for head and neck cancer

  • Author / Creator
    Alvarez-Camacho, Mirey
  • Taste and smell alterations (TSAs) are among the most frequent and troublesome side effects reported by head and neck cancer (HNC) patients after treatment. The purpose of this research was to investigate TSAs among HNC patients, study the association of TSAs on patient quality of life (QoL) and the association between Physical-Function (PF) and food characterization among HNC patients. Intensity and liking for the basic tastes and smell were evaluated before (n=32), upon completion (n=31), 6 weeks (n=31) and 3-6 months (n=31) after treatment for HNC using suprathreshold solutions representing sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami in commercial beverages. Milk and cream were used to test for creaminess perception and liking. Smell intensity and liking were evaluated using the Modified Brief Identification Smell Test. Vanilla solutions in water were used to assess retronasal intensity perception. Results revealed that taste intensity perception was impaired after treatment for all basic tastes, especially salty and umami. Liking scores did not respond to changes in tastant concentration after treatment. At 6 weeks and 3-6 months post-treatment, participants disliked the most concentrated solutions of salty, sour and bitter. Participants were able to perceive changes in retronasal intensity olfaction at all the time points. Repertory grid interviews were performed with orally-fed HNC patients (n=19) between 4-10 months post-treatment to characterize foods commonly eaten, avoided and eaten sometimes. Patients were stratified as better or worse PF (respectively ≥ or <61.7 on the Physical Function domain of the University of Washington Quality of Life (UW-QoL)). All patients used descriptors of taste, ease of eating, convenience, texture, potential to worsen symptoms and liking to characterize foods. Overall, avoided foods were characterized as having dry texture, while foods commonly eaten were characterized by their ease of eating and low potential to worsen symptoms. Descriptors of nutrition and smell were significant only for patients with worse PF to discriminate among foods. The association of TSAs with the overall QoL of HNC patients was analyzed using self-report measures of both TSAs (Chemosensory Complaint Score [CCS]) and QoL (UW-QoL version 3) before (n=126), upon completion (n=100) and at 2.5 months after treatment (n=85). CCS was a significant predictor of overall QoL (β= -1.84, p<0.0001), physical-function-QoL (β= -1.11, p=0.001), social-emotional-QoL (β= -1.74, p<0.0001) and overall function-QoL (β= -1.15, p<0.0001) regardless of whether patients were tube-fed or orally-fed. Taste was reported as an important symptom for both groups at the end of treatment and 2.5 months follow-up. This research reveals that intensity perception for salty and umami is impaired after treatment, while smell intensity perception was not affected. TSAs are perceived by patients as an important symptom at the end of treatment and 2.5 months post-treatment, and are an independent predictor of overall QoL, social-emotional-QoL and physical-function-QoL. Physical function influences the characterization of foods among post-treatment HNC patients, with descriptors of nutrition and smell being especially important for patients with worse physical function. Findings from this research highlight the need to incorporate assessment and management of taste and smell alterations within HNC patient nutrition education programs.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2015
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.