Taste alteration in breast cancer patients treated with taxane chemotherapy: experience, effect, and coping strategies



This study examined the experience and coping strategies for taste alteration in female breast cancer patients treated with docetaxel or paclitaxel.


A purposive sample of 25 patients currently receiving docetaxel or paclitaxel or within 6 months of having completed treatment was recruited. Semi-structured interviews and patient-level data were utilized for this exploratory descriptive study. Interview data were analyzed with the constant comparative method; patient-level data were abstracted from the electronic medical record.


Of all side effects reported from taxanes, the most common was taste alteration (8 of 10 docetaxel patients, 3 of 15 paclitaxel patients). Women that experience taste alteration chose not to eat as much, ate on an irregular schedule, and/or lost interest in preparing meals for themselves and/or their family. Women adopted a variety of new behaviors to deal with the taste alteration and its effects, including trying new recipes, eating strongly flavored foods, honoring specific food cravings, eating candy before meals, cutting food with lemon, drinking sweetened drinks, using plastic eating utensils, drinking from a straw, brushing their teeth and tongue before meals, and using baking soda and salt wash or antibacterial mouthwash.


Taste alteration affects breast cancer patients’ lives, and they develop management strategies to deal with the effect. While some self-management strategies can be seen as positively adaptive, the potential for increased caloric consumption and poor eating behaviors associated with some coping strategies may be a cause for concern given the observation of weight gain during breast cancer treatment and association of obesity with poor treatment outcomes in breast cancer patients. Further studies are warranted to determine the overall burden of this symptom and measurement of cancer and non-cancer-related consequences of these behavioral adaptations.

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The authors declare they have no conflict of interest to report in relationship to this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Rebecca M. Speck.

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Speck, R.M., DeMichele, A., Farrar, J.T. et al. Taste alteration in breast cancer patients treated with taxane chemotherapy: experience, effect, and coping strategies. Support Care Cancer 21, 549–555 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00520-012-1551-3

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  • Chemotherapy
  • Breast cancer
  • Taste
  • Dysgeusia