Introduction: Anxiety and depression are well-documented comorbid conditions that many patients with head and neck cancer experience. Furthermore, radiation therapy for many head and neck cancers is associated with significant morbidity. Dysgeusia, in particular, is almost universally experienced with total taste loss occurring in up to 73% of individuals radiated for head and neck cancers. Prior studies have demonstrated a significant correlation between decreased quality of life and dysgeusia. In this retrospective study, we wish to further characterize the association between taste disturbance and patient-reported anxiety and mood. With better understanding of this relationship, we may be able to effectively intervene in improving the quality of life for head and neck patients.

Methods: Forty-nine patients at The University of Vermont Medical Center who completed radiation therapy for head and neck cancer completed the University of Washington Quality of Life (QOL) Questionnaire at scheduled follow-up visits. Surveys were reviewed retrospectively for QOL measures, specifically patient-reported anxiety, mood, and taste.

Results: Taste scores were the lowest at follow-up weeks 0-3 and more than tripled by the last follow-up, at 48 weeks (p>0.0001). The trend in taste improvement was most rapid during the first few weeks after radiation, but leveled off after 12 weeks. Mood and anxiety similarly improved across weeks after radiation when compared against taste.

Conclusion: Our data suggest a correlation between taste disturbance, mood, and anxiety in patients after head and neck radiation. This suggests that targeting treatments to improve patients’ sense of taste post-radiation may improve their psychiatric well-being.

Citation Format: Thomas Arnell, Quinn Self, Sharon Li, Carl Nelson. Dysgeusia may play a role in negatively affecting mood and anxiety in post-radiation head and neck patients [abstract]. In: Proceedings of the AACR-AHNS Head and Neck Cancer Conference: Optimizing Survival and Quality of Life through Basic, Clinical, and Translational Research; 2019 Apr 29-30; Austin, TX. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Clin Cancer Res 2020;26(12_Suppl_2):Abstract nr A20.