Chemotherapy-induced taste and smell changes influence food perception in cancer patients



Chemotherapy-induced taste and smell alterations may have a negative impact on the quality of life and nutritional status. A prominent issue when dealing with taste and smell alterations and their consequences on food behavior and well-being lies in the variation arising from individual differences in chemosensory perceptions. The main aim of this study was to examine the effect of individuals’ variation in the severity of taste and smell alterations relative to the stage of chemotherapy on self-reported food behavior and food perception.


Eighty-nine cancer patients completed a questionnaire subdivided into two parts: a chemosensory part that allowed classification of patients in three groups (“no alterations,” “moderate alterations,” and “severe alterations”) and a food behavior part.


The results highlighted a negative impact of chemosensory alterations on food perception. Compared with patients without taste and smell alterations, patients with severe chemosensory alterations reported significantly more frequent food perception problems, including modification of the perceived taste of food, finding bad taste in all food, and being unable to perceive food taste. Whereas 72% of patients with severe alterations were in late stage, only 37% of patients were in late stage in the no alterations group, indicating an effect of the treatment stage on taste and smell alterations.


Our results underlie the importance of providing specific attention to the severity of chemotherapy-induced taste and smell alterations and considering the individual differences among patients for a better nutritional management.

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Fig. 1

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author KD upon reasonable request.


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We thank Elior and Infirmerie Protestante (Lyon) teams, particularly Maud Marchand for the help provided in conducting the present study.


This study is part of the “Taste and Cancer Project” (France), funded by Elior, Apicil, and the National Association for Research and Technology (ANRT).

Author information




KD, MB, AG, and AD discussed and elaborated the design of the study; KD collected and analyzed data; KD drafted the manuscript. All co-authors contributed to results interpretation, revised, and approved the final version of the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to K. Drareni.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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The study was approved by the ethical board of Hospices Civils de Lyon (N.REF: Rech_FRCH_2017; N.REF: Dossier 0024) and was performed in accordance with the ethical standards as laid down in the Declaration of Helsinki.

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Participants provided their consent prior to participating in this study.

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Drareni, K., Bensafi, M., Giboreau, A. et al. Chemotherapy-induced taste and smell changes influence food perception in cancer patients. Support Care Cancer 29, 2125–2132 (2021).

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  • Taste alterations
  • Smell alterations
  • Food perception
  • Individual variability
  • Cancer
  • Chemotherapy