Oral cancer patients experience mechanical and chemical sensitivity at the site of the cancer

Caroline M. Sawicki, Malvin N. Janal, Samuel J. Nicholson, Angie K. Wu, Brian Schmidt, Donna G. Albertson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Introduction: Oral cancer patients suffer severe chronic and mechanically-induced pain at the site of the cancer. Our clinical experience is that oral cancer patients report new sensitivity to spicy foods. We hypothesized that in cancer patients, mechanical and chemical sensitivity would be greater when measured at the cancer site compared to a contralateral matched normal site. Methods: We determined mechanical pain thresholds (MPT) on the right and left sides of the tongue of 11 healthy subjects, and at the cancer and contralateral matched normal site in 11 oral cancer patients in response to von Frey filaments in the range of 0.008 to 300 g (normally not reported as painful). We evaluated chemical sensitivity in 13 healthy subjects and seven cancer patients, who rated spiciness/pain on a visual analog scale in response to exposure to six paper strips impregnated with capsaicin (0–10 mM). Results: Mechanical detection thresholds (MDT) were recorded for healthy subjects, but not MPTs. By contrast, MPTs were measured at the site of the cancer in oral cancer patients (7/11 patients). No MPTs were measured at the cancer patients’ contralateral matched normal sites. Measured MPTs were correlated with patients’ responses to the University of California Oral Cancer Pain Questionnaire. Capsaicin sensitivity at the site of the cancer was evident in cancer patients by a leftward shift of the cancer site capsaicin dose-response curve compared to that of the patient’s contralateral matched normal site. We detected no difference in capsaicin sensitivity on the right and left sides of tongues of healthy subjects. Conclusions: Mechanical and chemical sensitivity testing was well tolerated by the majority of oral cancer patients. Sensitivity is greater at the site of the cancer than at a contralateral matched normal site.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1165
JournalBMC Cancer
Volume22
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2022

Keywords

  • Capsaicin sensitivity
  • Mechanical sensitivity
  • Oral cancer
  • Oral cancer pain

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Genetics
  • Cancer Research

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