Taste Change During Cancer Treatment—a Common Chemotherapy Side Effect

8 Ways to Cope with Taste Changes Caused By Chemotherapy

lemonade with mint
Tart drinks like lemonade help mask the metallic taste. Add a mint sprig for extra refreshment.. KAZUO OGAWA amana images/Getty Images

We are all familiar with side effects of chemotherapy like hair loss and stomach upset, but did you know that taste changes are also a common side effect? Almost half of people who undergo chemotherapy experience a change in their sense of taste. From too sweet to too bitter, chemotherapy can affect how foods and drink taste.

Types of Taste Changes During Chemotherapy

Not all people will develop taste changes during chemotherapy.

Certain chemotherapy drugs are more likely to cause it than others. Drugs such as carboplatin, cisplatin, doxorubisin, gemcitabine, and paclitaxel are known to cause taste change.

Taste changes can occur a few hours after completing a round of chemotherapy or days after. It varies from person to person, and there is no way to predict when it may occur. When people do experience taste changes, they generally experience any of four different taste sensations:

  • Bitter Taste
  • Metallic Overtones
  • Too Sweet
  • Loss of taste

What Can My Doctor Do About My Taste Changes?

Unfortunately, there is not much your doctor can do to prevent taste changes caused by chemotherapy. Even so, it is very important that you let your doctor know about any side effects of treatment you are experiencing—even taste changes. When foods taste differently to what you are used to, there is a chance that you will develop an aversion to the foods or to eating altogether, which can cause weight loss and malnutrition.

Even though your doctor may not be able to prevent taste change from occurring, there are several things that you can do to mask or relieve taste changes.

8 Ways to Combat Taste Changes

There are a few tried and tested ways that chemo therapy patients overcome their taste changes. The following is a list of tips that might help mask the different taste sensations you may be feeling:

1. Avoid eating for 2 to 3 hours after chemotherapy treatment.

2. Chew ice before eating certain foods. You want the nutrients of spinach, but your recent taste changes have been making that spinach taste like gasoline to you. Chew some ice to numb your taste buds before eating that good-for-you food.

3. Drink tart drinks like lemonade or limeade to mask the metallic taste. Be sure to avoid these drinks if you have dry mouth or any mouth sores. 

4. Some people on chemo swear by plastic utensils instead of metal ones to cut down on the metallic taste of some foods.

5. Think curry. Cooking with strong herbs and spices will help cover up the metallic taste of most foods.

6. Marinate your food with sauces like teriyaki, barbecue, or ketchup.

7. Minty fresh can help in between meals. Chew a sprig of mint, mint-flavored gum or hard candy.

8. Try making an ice cold fruit smoothie and add vegetables and protein too. The sweetness of the fruit will offset the bitterness of green veggies and boost your nutrient intake too.

Don't Worry, Taste Changes Should be Temporary

Your sense of taste should return to normal after treatment ends, but it may take some time. Some people find that their taste buds are hypersensitive when they begin to taste things normally again, while other people find it to be a gradual process. It can takes weeks and even months for your sense of taste to return to normal function.

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