Cancer and its treatments can change your senses of taste and smell. Taste changes are an alteration in how our taste buds perceive flavours – namely sweet, sour, bitter, salty and savoury. One may experience changes in any or all of these flavours – foods may taste bitter or not as sweet as they used to be, or they may have no taste at all. Many people become more sensitive to sour and bitter tastes, or have a “metallic” taste in the mouth, especially after eating meat.
How long these changes last is different for everyone and depends on your treatment. In general, treatment-related taste changes usually recover 2-3 months after treatment ends, but it may take up to a year before your sense of taste returns to normal again.
What you need to look out for
Causes of Taste changes
Taste changes may be caused by:
How it can be treated
Some causes of taste changes can be treated to improve the sense of taste. For instance, taking anti-fungal medications to clear up thrush in the mouth can allow some patients to taste better. Your doctor or nurse will ask you questions and examine you to ascertain the cause of your taste change, before deciding on the appropriate treatment for you.
Although there are no specific treatments for some of the other causes, you can take steps to reduce the impact of taste changes on your appetite and weight (see the section on “What you can do” below). Your doctor or nurse may also recommend you to see a dietician, to improve your diet or suggest ways to improve the taste of your food.
What you can do
Here are some tips to help you cope better with taste changes:
Choice of food
When to call your cancer care team
Please inform your doctor or nurse if taste changes have caused you to be unable to eat anything, or if you have lost more than 2kg of your body weight due to loss of appetite from taste changes.
If you have any questions regarding the above information, please call Cancer Helpline at
+65 6225 5655 or approach your doctor or nurse for further details.
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The above contents are made available as part of TEMASEK FOUNDATION-ACCESS (Accessible Cancer Care to Enable Support for Survivors) PROGRAMME, a holistic care programme to support cancer patients during their care and recovery journey.
The contents have been approved by the Cancer Education Information Service, National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS), for people with cancer and their families and caregivers. However, this information serves only as a guide and should not be used as a substitute for medical diagnosis, treatment or advice. For specific medical conditions, please seek expert medical advice from your healthcare team.
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