Taste and smell changes in patients receiving cancer chemotherapy: distress, impact on daily life, and self-care strategies

Cancer Nurs. Jan-Feb 2009;32(1):45-54. doi: 10.1097/01.NCC.0000343368.06247.74.


Few studies have described how patients receiving chemotherapy experience taste/smell changes (TSCs). Food and meal situations have important meaning beyond nutrition, so these common symptoms may affect daily lives. This study aims to investigate distress and impact on daily life from TSCs in patients receiving cancer chemotherapy, analyze reported levels of distress and impact on daily life from TSCs with regard to sociodemographic and clinical factors, and explore patients' reports of self-care strategies and communication with staff. The 340 patients reporting TSCs on a multicenter survey (n = 518) were grouped into subsets by level of TSC-related distress and impact on daily life, which served as the basis for statistical comparison. Written comments were analyzed inductively using content analysis. Nearly one-third of participating patients reported both high levels of distress and impact on daily life (high distress and high impact on daily life [HDHI]) from TSCs. The HDHI subset reported other symptoms more often than others did (P = .01) and also more often responded to open questions about distress, impact, and self-care strategies (P = .01). Taste/smell changes were not always reported to staff, even in the HDHI subset. The specific aspects of TSCs resulting in distress and impact on daily life varied greatly, affecting both psychological and somatic aspects, with little consensus and great individual differences described in self-care strategies. The variety of distress, impact, and strategies used to alleviate TSCs clarifies the importance of situational meaning.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Antineoplastic Agents / adverse effects
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Data Collection
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Olfaction Disorders / etiology
  • Olfaction Disorders / psychology*
  • Self Care
  • Stress, Psychological*
  • Taste Disorders / etiology
  • Taste Disorders / psychology*
  • Young Adult


  • Antineoplastic Agents