How long it takes for your taste to return to normal depends on many things. Taste changes can be temporary or can be a long-term problem. One person’s taste can also return more quickly after cancer treatment than someone else’s.
The type and length of treatment and the dose all affect taste. If you are having radiotherapy, the location of the treatment will also affect how long it takes for your sense of taste to return to normal. The recovery of taste is generally greatest in the first year after treatment, but improvements can also be experienced in the second year.
After surgery, taste may also be disturbed for a while due to damage to sensory nerves (nerves that send information to the brain). Cancer itself can also cause changes in taste. It’s important to note that each person’s sense of taste can be affected in different ways.
Chemotherapy influences the degree of taste change.
A study in women with breast cancer who received chemotherapy after surgery showed that most women experienced a metallic taste during the first 5-7 days of treatment. In the third week after the treatment, the metal taste had disappeared, but everything tasted ‘flat’. Six months after the last course, none of the women indicated that there were changes in taste.
Another study in women with breast cancer found that 20% of women who received chemotherapy after surgery and 16% of women who had surgery alone experienced reduced taste. After a year, there was only a slight difference in taste changes between these groups of women. None of the women who had undergone chemotherapy had a metallic taste after six months.
In another study, people with different types of cancer were interviewed. The results showed that taste returned to normal around 3 days to 14 weeks after the last treatment.
Taste often improves for one to two years after chemotherapy. After this period, further recovery of taste is usually minimal. The type of chemotherapy also influences the degree of taste change.
Taste changes occur in a third of patients who have had radiotherapy. Changes in taste or loss of taste mainly occurred with radiotherapy in the head and neck area.
Irradiation of the tongue damages the taste buds affecting taste. Irradiation of the nose reduces the sense of smell – a change or reduction in smell can also affect how food tastes.
Having a dry mouth can also affect what you can taste. Some foods don’t have any flavour until they are moistened. A sore or inflamed mouth can also make foods taste different.
Treatment of other types of cancer with radiation does not affect taste as much as it does with those in the head and neck area.
> Read more about taste changes when living with cancer
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