The treatment for lymphoma can damage the cells in the mouth leading to some taste changes that may not be pleasant or make food seem bland.
Although the purpose of chemotherapy is to kill or injure cancer cells, it may also damage some healthy cells, including taste buds.
The physical senses of taste, smell and touch are experienced when signals are sent from sensory cells in the mouth or nose to the brain. Many types of cancer treatment can interfere with the function of these sensory cells. Chemotherapy drugs can change the receptors cells in the mouth. Some treatments can also damage the nerves responsible for sending signals to the brain. Some types of chemotherapy can also affect nerve endings, which can change sensitivity to heat and cold.
Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy can all interfere with normal saliva flow. Saliva helps taste buds to detect taste. Having a dry mouth over a long period of time can also result in mouth infections or tooth decay, which can cause further problems with taste, smell or feeling.
Chemotherapy can change the way some foods taste and smell. Food may have a bitter or metallic taste or smell or may have no flavour at all. They can also cause an increased sense of smell and sensitivity to certain smells, which can change the way food tastes. These changes can last for hours to months after chemotherapy.
Cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, methotrexate, cisplatin, and vincristine can cause changes in taste.
How to manage taste changes
There are some things that you can do to help changes to the taste buds. These can include:
- Maintain good hygiene
- Eat when hungry
- Eat small, frequent meals
- Eat mints, chew gum or chew ice to mask the bitter or metallic taste
- Rinse your mouth out before and after eating to clear the taste buds
- Try foods with strong flavours but avoid if you have mouth sores
- Eliminate bad odours. Remove yourself from food preparation areas and choose plainer, cold or room temperature foods. Use exhaust fans, cover pots with lids or cook outdoors
- Speak to the healthcare team about supplements that may help.
- Tart flavours may help with a metallic taste in the mouth but avoid if there are mouth sores
- Try sweeteners or honey to help with a bitter taste in the mouth. Ginger ale and peppermint tea may also be helpful
- Avoid smoking if possible
- Sometimes food may seem tasteless. Make use of seasonings such as fresh herbs, lemon, lime, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, honey, chilli, pepper, Worcestershire sauce, pickles or Asian-style sauces. Avoid spices and seasonings if you have mouth sores.
- Patients may be overly sensitive to strong flavours, spicy or hot foods might become overpowering. Minimise the use of chilli and spices.
- Some patients describe food tasting too salty. Avoid adding salt to cooking and try lower-salt alternatives in place of usual foods.
- Many foods normally described as sweet tasting may start to taste too sweet. Try plain breakfast cereals with less added sugar, such as porridge or bran flakes, instead of cereals with added dried fruit, honey, or other sweeteners.
- Some patients experience a dry mouth during treatment, which can make food feel like cardboard. If this occurs, choose soft, moist foods and add moist condiments and accompaniments to dishes. Make sure fluid intake is high and keep the mouth hydrated. The treatment team can recommend products to stimulate or replace saliva.