Published on January 24, 2018
Loss of taste can be a common and unfortunate side effect of lung cancer chemotherapy treatment, but there are ways to still enjoy the food you love. Expert Dr. Ishwaria Subbiah, from The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, joins us to share options available for patients seeking to manage the side effect of taste loss. Tune in to find out.
Transcript | Will My Loss of Taste Return After Cancer Treatment?
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Dr. Subbiah, we got this question in from Shelly who says, my husband has lost his sense of taste after chemo. Any advice you can offer? Because we want to eat. We don't want to necessarily have to be just drinking out of a can for our nutrition, so if we enjoy it but it doesn't taste good, what do we do about that?
So the alteration in taste is one of the very common side effects of the more traditional chemotherapies. You do see it to some extent with the newer therapies, but not to the same extent as before. There's no easy fix for that change in taste that comes with the cancer treatment itself. Some of the more conservative interventions, if somebody—one of the rare mineral deficiencies, someone that's deficient in zinc, that can manifest as change in taste. And for whatever reason in the context of cancer care that deficiency is magnified.
So in my palliative care clinic I—when somebody tells me that their taste has changed we do a trial of two weeks. And so I give them a two-week prescription of zinc and it's enough of a dose to where if they were deficient their stocks are replenished and we can see if that makes a change in their taste.
Then we work very closely with our multidisciplinary team. It's never just me that you see in clinic. We have a team of people. It's the same team, so you form a relationship with them. But one very important part of our team is our—two really important parts of our team is our pharmacist and our nutritionist. We sit together. We go over your medication list. The drug that you're getting for your cancer, that's a high-priority medication, right? Then we look through your other medications to see, okay, which else on this list is notorious for causing changes in your taste.
And if we find those can we substitute it with somebody else that's as effective for the job that you're taking that pill for but may not necessarily have that same effect on your taste. We work together with our pharmacist to do that. We work together with our nutritionist to see, okay, how can we help your husband make sure that he gets the nutrition that his body needs as he goes through this treatment while being mindful of the changes in taste.
And our nutritionists, they have samplings of different flavors as part of one of the tests that they do to identify ones that that person reacts to the best, and so that we find these families of flavors that maybe don't bother them as much as something else that they have been used to eating at home. And so we help tailor a menu around that so that that person still has foods that they enjoy and doesn't have—doesn't have the bad taste.
And again, some people just have the loss of taste and others have a very bad taste that goes with it. So these are ways to support a person as they go through their treatment for cancer.
If at some point they are able to get a break from their treatment or switch to a different treatment, then for a group of people the taste buds to regenerate, and that change in the taste doesn't necessarily have to be permanent to that intensity. It may not go back to the way it was before all of this started, but there is some hope of recovery for some people who have this taste, and that's why it's so important to work with the multidisciplinary team.
That's what palliative care is. That's what supportive care is. It's the palliative care physician. It's the palliative care nurse, the nurse practitioner, the social worker, case manager, counselor, psychologist, the pharmacist, the chaplains, physical therapy occupational therapy, nutrition, these are all people.
They're all in one place in our clinic, and that's why because the things that a person is going through it's never just take pill A for problem X and everything will be fine.