Chemosensory Changes from Cancer Treatment and Their Effects on Patients' Food Behavior: A Scoping Review

Nutrients. 2019 Sep 24;11(10):2285. doi: 10.3390/nu11102285.


Individuals undergoing treatment for cancer can experience changes in taste or smell that are often assumed to affect constructs related to food behavior, although this relationship is rarely measured directly. To ascertain the extent to which measured changes in taste and smell during and after cancer treatment affect food behavior, we conducted a scoping review and completed a comparative analysis for studies that met our criteria, which were: they directly measured cancer patients' (a) psychophysical response to taste and/or olfactory stimuli, and (b) food behavior (including food enjoyment, food preference, dietary intake) in people affected by cancer. Eleven studies met these criteria and were included in the review. All 11 studies evaluated taste and five also measured smell. A comparative analysis exploring taste and food behavior shows that a reduced sweet taste function (decreased sensitivity) was associated with a reduced intake of a variety of different macro and micro nutrients, reduced appetite, and overall lower energy intake. One out of six studies that measured smell and food measured observed changes in olfactory function following cancer treatment. There were no significant relationships reported between olfactory measures and food behavior. Taste changes that arise from cancer treatment appear to have a direct effect on food behavior, although there is a need for more research using standardized measures and larger sample sizes. A better understanding of taste alterations and their implications for dietary intake and food enjoyment will support optimal nutritional health by identifying strategies to help patients eat well during and after cancer treatment.

Keywords: appetite; chemosensory dysfunction; chemosensory loss; chemosensory perception; chemotherapy; dietician; dysgeusia; flavor; oncology; smell; taste.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / adverse effects*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Feeding Behavior / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Smell / drug effects*
  • Taste / drug effects*


  • Antineoplastic Agents