Taste, smell and appetite changes
Having treatments to the head, neck and mouth area may affect your sense of taste and smell.
Learn more about:
After some surgeries to the nasal cavity, you may lose your sense of smell, and your sense of taste may also be affected. If you have a laryngectomy, air will no longer pass through your nose, which can affect your sense of smell. Surgery to the mouth may also change how food tastes.
Some treatments can change the way the salivary glands work and affect the flavour of food. Food may taste bitter or metallic, or may not have as much flavour as before.
It is important to try to keep eating well so your body gets enough nourishment to maintain your weight. If you lose most or all of your sense of taste, try experimenting with different textures and temperatures to make food more enjoyable. You could also focus on other appealing aspects of food, such as the colours and presentation of the meal. Another option is to do something else while eating, such as watching TV or reading a book – this might distract you from the food not tasting like it did before.
It can take several months for your sense of taste and smell to return to normal, and this may affect your appetite. If your sense of smell continues to be affected, a speech pathologist may be able to teach you a technique to help you regain your ability to smell. In some cases, taste changes may be permanent.
How to manage taste and smell changes
Podcast: Appetite Loss and Nausea
A/Prof Richard Gallagher, Head and Neck Surgeon, Director of Cancer Services and Head and Neck Cancer Services, St Vincent’s Health Network, NSW; Dr Sophie Beaumont, Head of Dental Oncology, Dental Practitioner, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Bena Brown, Speech Pathologist, Princess Alexandra Hospital, and Senior Research Fellow, Menzies School of Health Research, QLD; Dr Teresa Brown, Assistant Director, Nutrition and Dietetics, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, QLD; Lisa Castle-Burns, Head and Neck Cancer Specialist Nurse, Canberra Region Cancer Centre, The Canberra Hospital, ACT; A/Prof Ben Chua, Radiation Oncologist, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, GenesisCare Rockhampton and Brisbane, QLD; Elaine Cook, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Victoria; Dr Andrew Foreman, Specialist Ear, Nose and Throat Surgeon, Royal Adelaide Hospital, SA; Tony Houey, Consumer; Dr Annette Lim, Medical Oncologist and Clinician Researcher – Head and Neck and Non-melanoma Skin Cancer, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and The University of Melbourne, VIC; Paula Macleod, Head, Neck and Thyroid Cancer Nurse Coordinator, Northern Sydney Cancer Centre, Royal North Shore Hospital, NSW; Dr Aoife McGarvey, Physiotherapist and Accredited Lymphoedema Practitioner, Physio Living, Newcastle, NSW; Rick Pointon, Consumer; Teresa Simpson Senior Clinician, Psycho-Oncology Social Work Service, Cancer Therapy Centre, Liverpool Hospital, NSW.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.