Taste Changes During Cancer Therapy

Author: OncoLink Team
Content Contributor: Karen Arnold-Korzeniowski, MSN RN
Last Reviewed: February 08, 2024

Taste changes are when food and drinks no longer taste a certain way to you. Some cancer treatments can change your sense of taste. These changes can include food and drinks tasting bitter or like metal, being “put off” by certain foods, or a change in the taste of your favorite foods.

How does cancer treatment affect your sense of taste?

Treatments can cause injuries or cause side effects that change how things taste. Examples are:

  • Some treatments can damage your taste buds and sense of smell.
  • Xerostomia is when your mouth is dry and it is caused by a decrease in or loss of saliva. It can make taste changes worse and can cause a loss of interest in eating.
  • Dental problems can also add to taste changes and you should have regular dental checkups. Be sure to check with your oncology team to find the best time during therapy to see a dentist. 
  • Mucositis (mouth sores) can also cause changes in taste.

How can you manage taste changes?

Taste changes can impact your enjoyment of eating or drinking and you may not eat or drink enough for proper nutrition. Although the problem with taste changes often goes away over time after therapy ends, it can last for a year or longer. There are some things you can do to help manage taste changes and, in the process, decrease or prevent weight loss.

  • Rinse your mouth before meals with saltwater, sparkling water, or ginger ale, or brush your teeth.
  • Avoid cigarette or cigar smoking, as this can make taste changes worse.
  • Try to make your food more flavorful by adding spices, herbs, marinades, lemon juice, sauces, or pickled foods.
  • Avoid any acidic additives if you have mouth sores.
  • Capsaicin, which is derived from chili peppers and makes food spicy, can be used to treat pain from mouth sores, so it may be helpful for some.
  • Try to overpower a metallic taste with lemon drops, sugar-free hard candy, mints, or gum. These can also help stimulate saliva. You can also use plastic utensils and drink beverages from bottles, not cans.
  • Beef is prone to tasting metallic, so you may want to replace it with other forms of protein like chicken, eggs, or dairy products.
  • Consult with the cancer center dietitian for help with food options.

Taste changes can make you lose interest in eating. Some ways that you can increase your desire or ability to eat enough for proper nutrition include:

  • Eat small, frequent meals throughout the day. Have snacks on hand for when you feel hungry.
  • Make mealtime a social and enjoyable experience. Invite your visitors to come at mealtime and eat with you.
  • Eat foods that you enjoy. Milkshakes, puddings, sauces, and gravies can provide extra calories or lubrication to assist in eating.
  • Attractive presentation of foods can increase your appetite. Try meals that include bright-colored foods at a set table to appeal to your other senses.

If you are having a hard time eating or drinking due to taste changes, let your care team know so that they can help you make changes that will help. 


American Cancer Society. 2020. Taste and Smell Changes. https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/physical-side-effects/eating-problems/taste-smell-changes.html

Cancer.Net. 2020. Taste Changes. https://www.cancer.net/coping-with-cancer/physical-emotional-and-social-effects-cancer/managing-physical-side-effects/taste-changes

Murtaza B, Hichami A, Khan AS, Ghiringhelli F, Khan NA. Alteration in Taste Perception in Cancer: Causes and Strategies of Treatment. Front Physiol. 2017 Mar 8;8:134. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2017.00134. PMID: 28337150; PMCID: PMC5340755.


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