April 1, 2009

Cancer treatment affects taste of food

Chemotherapy and radiotherapy may alter taste and odor perception, leading to malnutrition in cancer patients, U.S. researchers say.

The review of studies, published in the Journal of Supportive Oncology, included ways that help improve taste and odor abnormalities for cancer patients. Among the suggestions are eating less of foods that may have a metallic or bitter taste such as red meat, coffee or tea; eating more high-protein foods; enhancing flavors with seasonings and spices; practicing good oral hygiene; and using saliva stimulating agents such as sugar-free gum and sour-tasting drops.

Oncologist Glenn Lesser of Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C., said the research team included biomedical and environmental engineers, as well as food scientists, from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg.

One purpose of the study was to increase doctors' recognition of the changes in taste and smell some cancer patients experience, study leader Andrea Dietrich said.

Oncologists who understand the types and causes of taste and olfactory abnormalities may be better prepared to discuss and empathize with these negative side effects, the study authors said in a statement.

Alteration of taste and smell in patients has been understudied compared with other aspects of cancer research.