Phantosmia during radiation therapy: a report of 2 cases

J Child Neurol. 2013 Jun;28(6):791-4. doi: 10.1177/0883073812450616. Epub 2012 Jul 17.


Phantosmia is an infrequently reported and poorly understood qualitative olfactory disorder characterized by the perception of a frequently unpleasant odor in the absence of an odorant stimulus. Peripheral phantosmia is hypothesized to involve abnormally active olfactory receptor neurons while central phantosmia is theorized to be the result of hyperactive neurons in the cortex. The authors present a case report that describes 2 patients with incomparable tumors and radiation fields who both experienced phantosmia featuring a halitosis-like odor during their courses of radiation therapy. Both the 6-year-old with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma and the 15-year-old with World Health Organization grade II-III astrocytoma in the bifrontal lobes experienced significant distress and decreased quality of life during treatment because of the phantosmia, which resolved after completion of radiation therapy. To the best of the authors' knowledge, these are the first descriptions of phantosmia during focal or whole-brain radiation therapy.

Keywords: olfactory; phantosmia; primary brain tumor; radiation therapy; unpleasant odor.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Astrocytoma / diagnosis
  • Astrocytoma / radiotherapy*
  • Brain Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Brain Neoplasms / radiotherapy*
  • Brain Stem Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Brain Stem Neoplasms / radiotherapy*
  • Child
  • Dose Fractionation, Radiation
  • Epilepsies, Partial / diagnosis
  • Frontal Lobe / radiation effects
  • Glioma / diagnosis
  • Glioma / radiotherapy*
  • Humans
  • Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Neoplasms, Neuroepithelial / diagnosis
  • Neoplasms, Neuroepithelial / radiotherapy*
  • Olfaction Disorders / diagnosis
  • Olfaction Disorders / etiology*
  • Radiation Injuries / diagnosis
  • Radiotherapy / adverse effects*
  • Radiotherapy Planning, Computer-Assisted
  • Remission, Spontaneous