How can I deal with a change or loss of taste as a result of cancer treatment?

Cancer, or cancer treatments like chemotherapy or radiotherapy, can change your taste. Certain foods may no longer taste how you remember them, things you used to love might suddenly not taste so good anymore.

How you experience the taste of certain foods can differ from day to day. While these changes can affect the enjoyment of food, for many, taste changes are temporary, and for most people, they will eventually return to normal.

Most health care professionals recommend finding flavours you still enjoy and adjusting your food choices accordingly. You can avoid products that you don’t like anymore.

Scientific research on how cancer can affect your taste and how to cope with this is still very limited. However, there are some recommendations that may improve your perception of flavours when your taste has changed.

How does taste work?

There are taste buds on your tongue, on the inside of your mouth and in your throat. These buds allow us to taste sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami (a savoury taste) flavours. Taste is partly determined by our sense of smell too.

The texture and temperature of food and drink can also play a role in how we taste and experience foods. For example, some foods can cause your mouth to feel dry while others might cause a greasy feeling. Crispy or spicy foods can stimulate the production of more saliva, which can stimulate taste. The way food is prepared also has an influence on how you perceive taste, as well as the environment where you eat your food.

Below you will find a short description of various taste changes that can be experienced and some tips on how to cope with them.

None or little taste or smell

After treatment you may not taste much for a while. There are ways to add more flavour to your food. For example, adding fresh and sour flavours, such as lemon, or adding fresh herbs, can make food taste better.

Food tastes different

If food tastes different, it is important to discover what your new taste preferences are. If you like sweet tastes, then you can add honey or syrup to a dish. If you like sour foods, you could try adding vinegar or lemon. Cinnamon and other spices can help when foods have a metallic taste.

Food feels different in your mouth

If food feels different in your mouth, adding something fatty such as butter may help. Trying different textures can also make food feel nicer to eat. For example, adding croutons to salad or soup can help to add new textures. Temperature also determines how something feels in your mouth. Eating your food lukewarm or cold can help improve its flavour.

Aversion to food and smells

Cold food such as a pasta salad will not smell as strong as a hot meal, try experimenting with the temperature of foods if you are experiencing aversions to smells. If you no longer like a certain food, there’s no need to force yourself to keep eating it. You can even try foods you didn’t like before, as your preferences may have changed.

By following the steps below, you can discover what taste, smells and textures of food you like.

Recipes for people living with cancer

If you’re dealing with taste changes as a result of cancer and its treatment, you may be interested in our recipe guides that are written for people living with cancer. They’re created by the chef Ryan Riley.

Order a free Ryan Riley recipe booklet

In association with

NIHR cancer and nutrition collaboration logo


British Dietetic Association logo