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Cancer Treatment and Your Senses

Karen Alexander, Licensed Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

February 3, 2022

Sensory Changes During Your Cancer Treatment

If you have ever had a common cold you probably know what its like to have little or no sense of smell and taste. Some types of cancer and their treatment can change your sense of smell and taste, which can affect your appetite and ultimately affect your nutrition status and your body’s immune response, among other effects. Listed below are ideas on how to best manage these sensory changes.

For Bitter, Acidic, or Metallic Tastes

  • Try sweet or sour foods and beverages.
  • Use strongly flavored spices, seasonings or marinades to hide the flavor, or choose alternative sources of protein such as eggs, dairy products, vegan meats, nuts or beans. Avoid beef since it can trigger metallic taste.
  • Use plastic utensils to reduce metallic taste.

For Salty Taste

  • Choose foods that are naturally sweet, such as fruits or sweet potatoes.
  • Avoid using salt or seasonings with salt (celery salt, onion salt, etc.).
  • Avoid ready to eat meals or dining out.

For Enhanced Sweet Taste

  • Choose vegetables rather than fruits.
  • Avoid sweetened foods and beverages.
  • Choose sour flavors, such as lemon.

Make Small Changes To Your Diet

  • Choose foods kept at room temperature such as sandwiches and fruit.
  • Avoid foods with strong smells, such as seafood, onions, and garlic, etc.

According to Chef Rebecca Katz, author of the The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen, a certain combination of flavors can assist people struggling with changes in taste. For more information visit:

Additional Tips

  1. Keep your mouth clean
  2. Brush your teeth, and rinse your mouth with a solution of 1 quart of water mixed with ¾ teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of baking soda.
  3. Check your mouth frequently for thrush.  A yeast infection can also be the cause of sudden changes in taste and can be resolved with a prescription from your doctor.





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