Metallic Taste During Chemotherapy

You may experience a metallic taste during chemotherapy, especially while eating. Taste changes can be common while undergoing chemotherapy treatment. This side effect may make foods and beverages taste awful and even make some foods or drinks inedible at times.

A woman with a bitter taste in her mouth
David Sutherland / Getty Images

Rest assured that you are not the only person to experience this⁠—about half of people on chemo do! It is not entirely clear why metallic taste is a side effect, although there are several theories that scientists are researching. Some chemotherapy drugs are more notorious for causing this side effect than others. Nitrogen mustard, vincristine, cisplatin, and cyclophosphamide are the ones that are often listed as causing this side effect.

How to Cope

There are several things you can do to try to offset or mask the metallic taste you may be experiencing because of chemotherapy:

  • Avoid eating for two to three hours after receiving chemotherapy.
  • Drink acidic drinks like lemonade or limeade. While this can help with the metallic taste, you need to avoid these drinks if you have mouth sores, and they may be irritating if you are experiencing dry mouth.
  • Use plastic utensils instead of metal ones. Keep metal out of your mouth. You may want to buy high-quality plastic utensils that feel better in your mouth.
  • Cook with strong herbs and spices that will help cover up the metallic taste.
  • Use sauces like teriyaki, barbecue, or ketchup. These high-flavor sauces for meat and vegetables can mask the off-tastes.
  • Chew mint-flavored gums or hard candy. This can help between meals.
  • Chew ice.
  • Eat chilled or frozen foods, like milkshakes, ice creams, and popsicles. Having popsicles handy between meals can be a good tactic.

Remember that no two people are the same. Some people find that a blander diet decreases the metallic taste, while others need lots of sauces and spices to mask it.

For some, red meat tastes very metallic and others find it more strong in chicken. You have to experiment with food to discover what works for you. What may work for one person may not work for another.

Prevention

Unfortunately, there is not much your healthcare provider can do to prevent taste changes caused by chemotherapy. Even so, you must let them know about any treatment side effects you are experiencing, even this common one.

When experiencing unpleasant flavors you may eat less and develop an aversion to certain foods or eating altogether. This can cause weight loss. It can also lead to avoiding meals with family and friends, which are otherwise good for social support. This will further weaken your body and make treatment and recovery more difficult.

Do not take vitamins or supplements unless your healthcare provider has recommended them. Your medical team needs to know everything you are taking during treatment, including vitamins and "natural" remedies, so they can prevent harmful interactions with your treatment.

Summary

Alterations in taste is common during chemotherapy treatment. You may not be able to totally eliminate the metallic taste during treatment, but you may be able to mask the flavor with stronger flavored foods. It's important to maintain good mouth hygiene throughout treatment.

A Word from Verywell

It's important to continue eating healthy foods and drinking plenty of fluids throughout cancer treatment to avoid extreme weight loss and malnutrition. Choose foods that are enticing and taste good, even with altered senses.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does it take for the metallic taste to go away after chemo?

    Anecdotally, metallic taste changes related to chemotherapeutic agents typically go away about 3-4 weeks after the end of the chemo treatment.

  • Does magic mouthwash help with the metallic taste?

    Magic mouthwash is not specifically used to remove the metallic taste in the mouth, but rather to ease the pain and symptoms associated with oral mucositis or mouth sores.

Originally written by Lisa Fayed
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3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. De vries YC, Boesveldt S, Kelfkens CS, et al. Taste and smell perception and quality of life during and after systemic therapy for breast cancer. Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2018;170(1):27-34. doi:10.1007/s10549-018-4720-3

  2. Reith AJM, Spence C. The mystery of “metal mouth” in chemotherapy. Chem Senses. 2020;45(2):73-84. doi:10.1093/chemse/bjz076

  3. Von grundherr J, Koch B, Grimm D, et al. Impact of taste and smell training on taste disorders during chemotherapy - TASTE trial. Cancer Manag Res. 2019;11:4493-4504. doi:10.2147/CMAR.S188903

Additional Reading
  • Steinbach S, Hummel T, Böhner C, et al. Qualitative and quantitative assessment of taste and smell changes in patients undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer or gynecologic malignancies. J Clin Oncol. 2009;27(11):1899-905. doi:10.1200/JCO.2008.19.2690