Taste and Smell Changes during Chemo
I was very interested in this article from JCO about taste and smell changes during chemotherapy. Any of us who have been through (or are going through) chemotherapy know that these changes happen, and there is little attention paid. The focus of care is much more on symptom control and side effect management, and the fact that everything tastes metallic or suddenly you can't stand the smell of roasting onions is fairly minor. Most women do find that their food preferences change during chemo; part of it is a wish for simple comfort food (there is a joke about the ideal chemo meal being mashed potatoes and mac and cheese) and part of it is that things really do taste different. Sometimes, I advise women to stay away from their usual favorites so those things aren't forever associated with these difficult months.
Here is the introduction and a link:
Qualitative and Quantitative Assessment of Taste and Smell
Changes in Patients Undergoing Chemotherapy for Breast
Cancer or Gynecologic Malignancies
Smell and taste changes during chemotherapy are significant complaints of cancer patients. Loss of olfactory/gustatory function can lead to malnutrition, weight loss, and possibly a prolonged morbidity of chemotherapy-induced adverse effects, decreased quality of life, poor compliance, and even decreased therapy response. This prospective study comprehensively investigated, to our knowledge for the first time, smell and taste changes in a cohort of 87 patients undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer or gynecologic malignancies.
Patients and Methods
Olfactory function was tested using Sniffin' Sticks (Burghart; Wedel, Germany) and gustatory function was tested using taste strips before, during, and immediately and 3 months after chemotherapy.
Olfactory and gustatory function significantly decreased during chemotherapy and recovered almost completely 3 months after chemotherapy. Scores of odor thresholds were affected more than those of discrimination or identification. The olfactory function of older patients was affected more than that of younger patients. There was no difference in the olfactory function during chemotherapy with respect to the chemotherapeutic agent or initial diagnosis (breast or ovarian cancer). Regarding taste, scores of salty taste were affected more than scores of sweet, sour, or bitter taste. The gustatory function did not differ significantly during chemotherapy with respect to age or diagnosis but did differ with respect to the chemotherapeutic agent. Taxane-based chemotherapy caused the most severe disorders.
Chemotherapy has a significant but transient effect on olfactory and gustatory function, possibly causing reduced appetite, a low energy intake, and weight loss. Additional spices and flavoring may compensate for this diminished chemosensory function, enhancing patient compliance and quality of life.
J Clin Oncol 27:1899-1905. © 2009 by American Society of Clinical Oncology