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Chemotherapy-Induced Taste Disorders and Nutrient Intake

Posted Mar 30 2010 6:56am
Most chemotherapy drugs have side effects that can negatively impact the quality of life of cancer patients.  One of these side effects can be changes in taste sensations.  Previous studies have reported that chemotherapy can induce a loss of taste or a more frequent recognition of a bad taste perception.

A new study (free to download) examined the relationship between chemotherapy, changes in taste sensation, and changes in food/nutrient intake.  For this study, researchers tested the ability of cancer patients (including some breast cancer patients) to taste three different flavors (sweet, bitter, novel) after their second round of chemotherapy and compared their results to individuals without cancer.  The study investigators found that
  • Compared to control subjects, cancer patients required higher flavor doses before they could recognize bitter or sweet flavors.
  • Patients who required a sweet dose higher than the group average consumed about 500 fewer total calories, less protein, less carbohydrate, and less zinc.
  • Cancer patients who needed a higher than average bitter dose consumed fewer total calories (~600 fewer calories), less protein, less carbohydrates, and less fat compared to patients who recognized the bitter flavor at a lower level.
  • Compared to patients with normal taste thresholds, cancer patients requiring high doses of bitter and sweet were less likely to consume their daily energy requirements.
  • 100% of cancer patients with a higher than average bitter taste threshold experienced weight loss.
This new cancer research identifies an important area of concern for cancer patients treated with chemotherapy.  Most of the patients reported some form of taste abnormality (bad taste in the mouth, loss of taste, etc.) after chemotherapy.  Additionally, many of the cancer patients required high amounts of flavors before being able to recognize them.  These changes in taste perception resulted in inadequate nutrient intake and weight loss in many of the cancer patients.  This can have a serious, negative impact on quality of life and nutritional status.  Discussing changes in taste perception with a physician or dietitian is an important part of post-treatment care in order to avoid nutritional deficiencies.

Maintaining a healthy diet and incorporating cancer fighting foods into this healthy diet can be important for all of us in order to reduce breast cancer risk.  To learn more about some of my favorite cancer fighting foods, read my book Fight Now: Eat & Live Proactively Against Breast Cancer at .
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