Phantom Odors & Brain Cancer

Smells that won't go away are called phantom smells.
Smells that won't go away are called phantom smells. (Image: smell image by Connfetti from

Olfactory hallucinations are often referred to as phantom odors or phantosmia. You are experiencing a phantom odor when you detect a smell that is not really present. There are many things that can cause a phantom odor. In some cases, a phantom odor can be caused by a brain tumor.


What you smell and its intensity can vary by person. You may experience the smell in only one nostril or in both nostrils at the same time. Phantom smells are not masked by the smell or taste of food. All phantom odors can be a sign of a serious illness and should be discussed with your doctor.


The sense of smell is a chemical sense. Your nose picks up molecules in the air and translates those molecules into the sensation of smell. Your sense of smell can be damaged by exposure to chemicals, injury to your nose, seizures, infections and brain tumors located in the temporal lobe.


For a brain tumor to effect your sense of smell it must be located in the part of your brain that controls that sense. Your cerebrum is the largest part of your brain. All of your senses and movements are controlled by areas of your cerebrum. Your temporal lobe, a section of the cerebrum, controls your sense of hearing and smell. A brain tumor in the temporal lobe can affect your sense of smell and create a phantom odor.


Seizures are the most common sign of brain cancer located in the temporal lobe. Seizures can cause permanent damage to the brain. Seizures and tumor can damage the part of your brain that receives the message from your nose. Once damaged, your brain can misread the messages and smell odors that aren’t present.


If you experience a phantom odor that will not go away or gets worse, see your doctor. Even if you do not have brain cancer, your phantom odor is being caused by something.

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