CSN Login
Members Online: 3

You are here

Foul smell during radiation

Posts: 11
Joined: May 2009

I am in my first week of treatment for Stage II nasopharynx cancer. Everytime during IMRT radiation, I notice a pungent and foul odor. I haven't smelled it before, however, I can best describe it as trash / burning blood. I have asked the docs and the attendants about it. I haven't gotton any reasonable explanation. The attendants told me that some people do complain about an odor. I wanted to see if other people on this forum had a similar experience. The odor is so strong that it makes me uncomfortable and sometimes nauseous. It is usually the strongest right after the machine makes an initial noise. It subsides afterwards. I try to breathe out during the time and end up hyperventillating. What I'll like to know is that if the smell will go away after a few treatments (or perhaps my sense of smell will go) and if there is something I can do to avoid it. Thanks.

SIRENAF42's picture
Posts: 203
Joined: Oct 2008

I only noticed a smell when the treatment first began. It reminded me of chlorox. Never smelt anything more that that.

Posts: 28
Joined: Jan 2009

I too noticed a strong smell as the machine kicked off. I also think it smelled like a chlorine/burning sulfur. It subsided after about 10 to 20 seconds. I just took a breath and held it when the machine took off and then slowly let my breath out. By the time I did that it was pretty much gone. I asked the radiologist about it and he did some research and found that some people report an odor and some do not but there is no definitive reason why. Some people just have a more sensitive sense of smell that picks up on it. I had 33 treatments and each one started off with the smell. I actually got used to the smell after some treatments that it didn't bother me too much. Good luck and I hope this helps.

Posts: 11
Joined: May 2009

Thanks for your comments guys. Now that you mentioned it, it does smell like clorox (but very strong). I smell it everytime the machine kicks off which is 7-8 times per treatment. Perhaps I should try nose plugs.

Posts: 1
Joined: Sep 2009

I also experience the exact same thing. Once the treatment kicks on I smell something I could relate to a chlorox smell. I've been holding my breathe the first several seconds too and it seems to go away. I asked my Dr. about it and was told they are not taught anything about it in school because we aren't supposed to smell anything. She said around 1/100 of her patients complain of a smell. Maybe we just have a sensitive sense of smell. I swear I could smell a chemical when receiving chemo but my GF would try to smell it and couldn't. Anyway just thought I'd share my experience.

RedE2NJoy's picture
Posts: 20
Joined: Aug 2009

Just reading your entries and realized it might very well be the same smell I caught at the very start of radiation. My techs told me the startup triggers an ozone smell for about half of the patients at the treatment center I used. Definately didn't get used to the smell, just learned to listen to the machine and then hold my breath for 10-15 seconds at the right time.

Skiffin16's picture
Posts: 8297
Joined: Sep 2009

I agree with RedE2NJoy, it smells very much like Ozone. The industry that I work has machines that produce Ozone and the odor smells identical.

I also got used to the timing and sounds of the machine and just didn't breathe for those few seconds that I knew the odor always seemed to occur.

I also asked the techs and told them of the ozone smell, but they didn't really understand I feel. They did say that other patients would occasionally speak of the odor.

Posts: 1
Joined: Sep 2009

I asked one of the radiation therapy techs about the smell and the purple/blue light. I've experienced both whenever I've had an x-ray taken. He said that few people have either, but it is due to a slight stimulation of the olfactory sensors.
I couldn't relate the smell to anything, but bleach is a good comparison. It hits me way up in my sinus area.
One treatment down, thirty three to go.

Posts: 91
Joined: Sep 2009

I also have one treatment down and looking to get this countdown over. I did not smell anything during the treatment. I am just glad that the tech talks to me and has prepared me to sounds to expect etc. Keep a positive view ahead and the time will pass - no matter what, December will arrive as scheduled ready or not. Good thoughts are going your way from a fellow traveler on this path. Dazey

Hondo's picture
Posts: 6643
Joined: Apr 2009

I asked my Oncology about the smell and taste and he told me that there was no medical explanation for it. After a little research I was told it was due to the minerals in the blood passing by the radiation beam in the nasal passageway. I am not sure but I am glad it did not last long.

Posts: 1
Joined: Jul 2017

The smell most of us get during IMRT, especially in more humid climates or bunkers where they house the treatement machines, is in fact Ozone. I was told by the therapists and Oncologist that it was probably just tickling my olfactory nerves. I'm an engineer by education, I wasn't buying it.  

I had mine done in St. Louis, very humid place, and the Ozone smell was affecting taste as well as pretty bad headaches. 

The ozone is produced from the electrical transformers within the machine stepping up to incredibly high voltages to produce the x-rays used. The EMF and static charges produced bond the water Oxygen to the O2 in the air creating O3-Ozone. The x-rays themselves are non-ionizing.

That being said, the taste/odor comes from when the Ozone actually interacts with our moisture barriers (saliva and mucus). The spare O atom in O3 is weakly bonded to an O2, so when O3 interacts with water, it creates H2O2, or Hydrogen Peroxide. H2O2 is not very nice to ingest, so I believed that's where my headaches and mild nausea were coming from.

I brought the science to my Oncologist and they started blasting the A/C and air handlers in all the IMRT rooms. The air movement kept O3 from getting to us patients, and side effects went away(other than the skin irritation).

So for future reference in case a newcomer comes across this.. If you smell Ozone or stale air in the room, just ask the therapists to turn on the fan or a/c in the room.  


CivilMatt's picture
Posts: 4636
Joined: May 2012


Welcome to the H&N forum, where the analysis of this subject has waited 8 years for your information.

It is very common among H&N members to have a heighten sense of smell, we call it bionic nose.  It is just one of many changes we go through.


Subscribe to Comments for "Foul smell during radiation"