Changes in taste or smell

Some treatments and their side effects can change the way some foods taste or smell. Chemotherapy can change the taste receptors in the mouth. Radiation therapy or surgery to the head, neck and mouth area can damage the salivary glands and tastebuds on the tongue. Food may taste bitter or metallic, or may not have as much flavour as before.

It’s common to have taste changes during treatment and for a short time afterwards. People with cancer often say, “All food tastes the same”, “Food tastes like cardboard”, “Food tastes metallic”, or “I no longer like the taste of my favourite food”. If you lose most or all of your sense of taste, focus on other appealing aspects of food, such as the colours and presentation of the meal. You could try experimenting with different textures and temperatures to make food more enjoyable (e.g. hot apple pie with cold ice-cream). It may take several months for taste to return to normal. In some cases, taste changes may be permanent.

If you have a sore mouth, sore throat or swallowing difficulties, talk to your doctor, speech pathologist, dentist or dietitian – some of the suggestions below will not be suitable.

For more on this, see Taste and smell changes.

  — Helen


How to manage changes in taste or smell

Taste changes

Smell changes

  • Add extra flavour to food if it tastes bland (e.g. fresh herbs, lemon, lime, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, honey, chilli, pepper, Worcestershire sauce or pickles). Check out these ideas for tasty marinades.
  • Experiment with different foods, as your tastes may change. You may not like bitter drinks (e.g. tea, coffee, beer, wine) or sweet food (e.g. chocolate), even if you liked them before treatment. It is common to prefer savoury food.
  • If meat tastes unpleasant during treatment, replace it with other protein sources (e.g. cheese, eggs, nuts, dairy foods, seafood, baked beans, lentils, chickpeas).
  • Add small amounts of sugar to food if it tastes bitter or salty.
  • Use bamboo or plastic cutlery if metal cutlery adds a metallic taste.
  • Drink through a straw so the taste isn’t as strong. Metal straws may add a metallic taste so paper or plastic straws may be better.
  • Choose cold food or food at room temperature – hot food smells stronger.
  • Try not to eat your favourite foods during chemotherapy. Some people find afterwards that they cannot tolerate the smell of foods associated with their treatment.
  • Avoid using large amounts of strong-smelling ingredients (e.g. garlic, onion).
  • If cooking smells bother you, ask family or friends to cook and stay out of the kitchen when food is being prepared.
  • Turn on the exhaust fan, open a window and cover pots with lids to help reduce cooking smells, or cook outside on the barbecue.
  • Avoid eating in stuffy or overly warm rooms.
  • Practise good mouth care, as a bad taste in the mouth can make things smell unpleasant.

Click on the icon below to download a PDF booklet on taste and smell changes.


    Taste and smell changes

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The iBooks application must be installed on your Apple device before you can read the EPUB.
Different ways to download an EPUB file to your Apple device:

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Need more help? Visit: http://support.apple.com/kb/HT4059

Kobo

To download an EPUB file to your Kobo from a Windows computer:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • select “Open folder to view files” to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

To download an EPUB to your Kobo from a Mac:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • open your “Finder” application.
  • select “Kobo eReader” from the listed devices to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, probably in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

Turn on your Kobo and your EPUB will be located in “eBooks”, while a PDF will be located in “Documents”.
Need more information? Visit: http://www.kobo.com/help/koboaura/response/?id=3784&type=3

Sony Reader

To download an EPUB file on your Sony Reader™:

  • ensure you have already installed the Reader™ Library for PC/Mac software
  • select the eBook you want from our website and click the link to download it.
  • connect the Reader™ to your computer.
  • open the Reader™ Library software and click “Library” in the left-hand pane and select the eBook to view it.

Need more help? Visit: https://au.readerstore.sony.com/apps_and_devices/

Amazon Kindle 2nd Generation devices

EPUB files can’t be read on the Amazon Kindle™. However, like most eReaders, Kindle™ 2nd Generation devices are able to display PDFs. We recommend that you download the PDF version of this booklet if you would like to read it on a Kindle™.
To transfer a PDF to your Kindle™ via USB cable from your computer or Mac:

  • download the PDF directly onto your computer.
  • connect the USB cable to your computer’s USB port, and the micro USB end of the cable to your Kindle™. Note: the Kindle™ won’t be available as a reading device while it is connected to your computer until it has been disconnected.
  • open the Kindle™ drive and several folders will appear inside. The “Documents” folder is where you will need to copy or drag the PDF to.
  • safely eject your Kindle™ from your computer and unplug the USB cable. Your content will appear on the Home Screen.

Kindle also provides a Kindle Personal Documents Service that allows users to send documents as an attachment directly to your eReader. For more information on this service, visit http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html/ref=help_search_1-1?ie=UTF8&nodeId=200767340&qid=1395967989&sr=1-1
For more information on accessing a PDF on your Kindle™, visit www.amazon.com/manageyourkindle, log in to your account and click on Personal Document Settings.
Need more help? Visit https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=200375630

Android and PC

You can also download and open eBooks on Android devices and PCs with appropriate apps or software installed. Suitable eReader apps for Android include Google Play Books, FBReader and Moon+ Reader. Suitable software for PCs include Calibre and Adobe Digital Editions.


This information was last reviewed in June 2019
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