Dealing With Taste Changes Caused by Chemotherapy

Side effects of chemotherapy like hair loss and stomach upset are well-known. But most people don't realize that taste changes are also a common side effect.

Almost half of the people who undergo chemotherapy experience a change in their sense of taste. Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, certain cancers, and treatment-related medications can all cause changes in the way foods taste.

Changes in your taste and smell can make it hard to eat or drink enough. These changes can cause unwanted loss of appetite, low body weight, poor quality of life, and diminished well-being. However, there are strategies that can help people to cope with taste changes until they return to normal.

This article discusses different kinds of taste changes during chemotherapy and coping strategies to improve food taste until your treatment ends.

A breast cancer patient in her hospital bed
Justin Paget / Getty Images

Types of Taste Changes During Chemotherapy

Not all people will develop taste changes during chemotherapy. Certain chemotherapy drugs are more likely to cause it than others. Drugs such as carboplatin, cisplatin, doxorubicin, gemcitabine, and paclitaxel cause taste changes.

Some research shows that changes in taste occur on the tongue within the taste buds and in the brain. Understanding the physical changes that cause abnormal tastes will help scientists to explore different interventions that may help.

Taste changes can occur a few hours after completing a round of chemotherapy to days afterward. Timing varies from person to person, and there is no way to predict when it may occur. When people do experience taste changes, they generally experience any of four different taste sensations that include:

  • Bitter taste
  • Metallic overtones
  • Too sweet
  • Loss of taste/bland or flavorless food

What Your Healthcare Provider Can Do

Unfortunately, there is not much your healthcare provider can currently do to prevent taste changes caused by chemotherapy. Even so, it would be best to let your practitioner know about any side effects of the treatment you are experiencing—including taste changes.

When foods taste different from what you are used to, there is a chance that you will develop an aversion to the foods or to eating altogether, which can cause weight loss and malnutrition.

Ways to Combat Taste Changes

There are some recommended ways that chemotherapy patients overcome their taste changes. The following is a list of tips that might help mask the different taste sensations you may be feeling:

Bitter Taste

  • Try smoothies: Make an ice-cold fruit smoothie and add vegetables and protein too. The sweetness of the fruit will offset the bitterness of the green vegetables and boost your nutrient intake.
  • Choose your protein: If beef or red meat tastes metallic, bitter, or rotten, try to eat chicken, beans, nuts, eggs, or cheese instead.
  • Add sweeteners: Additional sweetness may help to mask a bitter flavor. Try adding sweeteners like sugar, honey, or juices to see if it helps improve the taste.

Metallic Overtones

  • Consume tart drinks: Beverages like lemonade or limeade may help to mask a metallic taste. Avoid these drinks if you have dry mouth or mouth sores.
  • Use plastic utensils: Some people on chemo prefer to use plastic utensils instead of metal ones to cut down on the metallic taste of some foods.
  • Chew gum or suck on hard candy: Mint, lemon, orange, or similar flavors may help to mask metallic, bitter, or other unpleasant tastes in your mouth.

Too Sweet

  • Add lemon juice and salt: Acid and salt may help balance a flavor that tastes too sweet.
  • Try plain versions of food: Try plain oatmeal or yogurt instead of ones that are sweetened or have fruits added.

Loss of Flavors

  • Add extra flavors to your food: Marinate your food in sauces like teriyaki, barbecue, or ketchup. Herbs and spices may help too.
  • Try new foods or flavors: Experiment with new foods, flavors, and dishes.
  • Minimize liquids during meals: Drinking too much can fill you up before you eat the necessary nutrition. Small amounts of water or other drinks are OK.

General Tips

  • Delay eating until two to three hours after chemotherapy treatment: This helps to avoid chemo-induced nausea and vomiting.
  • Eat cold or room temperature foods: Foods at these temperatures generally have less taste and smell, making them easier to eat.
  • Try ice chips: Sucking on ice chips before eating may help to numb your mouth and make unpleasant tastes more tolerable.
  • Keep your mouth clean: Brush your teeth and rinse your mouth regularly. This helps to decrease unpleasant tastes.

Taste Changes Should Be Temporary

Your sense of taste should return to normal after treatment ends, but it may take some time. Some people find that their taste buds are hypersensitive when they begin to taste things normally again, while other people find it to be a gradual process. It can take weeks or even months for your sense of taste to return to normal function.


Changes in your sense of taste are common with chemotherapy. You may find food tasteless, bitter, salty, sweet, or otherwise unpleasant. You may want to try making some changes to your foods and drinks to see what you can tolerate. If you have any difficulty maintaining your intake, be sure to reach out to your healthcare team.

A Word From Verywell

In addition to nausea and vomiting, having changes in the way foods taste during cancer treatment can be frustratingt. Your favorite foods may be incredibly bland or just taste wrong and this may make you not want to eat. Focus on your nutrition during this time so that you get enough fluids, calories, protein, and other important nutrients in your diet. Your sense of taste typically returns to normal after treatment is over.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How can you recover your taste buds?

    Cancer treatments can cause your sense of taste to change. While you are actively receiving treatment, little can be done to return things to normal. Once your chemotherapy or radiation is complete, your sense of taste will typically return over time.

  • What foods taste good after chemo?

    The changes that chemotherapy causes to your sense of taste will be different for each person. Experiment with foods, flavors, temperatures, spices, and sauces to see what tastes good to you. If nothing tastes good, work with your healthcare team to plan how to meet your nutrition requirements. Oftentimes, eating small, frequent snacks helps to ensure you are eating as well as you can.

8 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.
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Originally written by Lisa Fayed