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Managing Taste and Smell Changes During Mesothelioma Treatment

If you are a mesothelioma patient dealing with changes in how you taste or smell your food, you are not alone. A new study of lung cancer patients in the same situation suggests that healthcare professionals could be doing more to help.

Treatment-related changes in taste and smell are common among people with malignant mesothelioma and other types of cancer.

Chemotherapy can change a person’s ability to recognize certain familiar smells and tastes. Mesothelioma patients often report no longer liking the flavor of certain foods that they have always found appealing. Others may begin to gravitate toward foods (such as spicy or sweet things) they they did not like in the past.

Radiotherapy treatment for mesothelioma can also interfere with the senses of taste and smell.  Many mesothelioma patients complain of a metallic taste in their mouth or of losing the ability to taste or smell entirely.

These changes have the potential to impact both a patient’s nutritional and emotional state during cancer treatment.

Mesothelioma Patients May Not Get Enough Support

In a recent Swedish study that included interviews with 17 lung cancer patients, researchers with the Karolinska Institutet examine how these cancer patients dealt with changes in their ability to taste and smell.

They found that, while most people just made adjustments on a personal level in their interactions with family and in social situations, they also faced some challenges that might have benefitted from more involvement by their healthcare providers.

The cancer patients reported not only having to change the way they prepared their food and ate it (in light of not being able to trust their senses to guide them), but also having to come to terms with the loss of these senses and the pleasure they bring.

According to author and clinical dietician Kerstin Belqaid, this is where a caring healthcare provider might help. “Through provision of normalizing information, practical advice, and to some extent, emotional support, healthcare professionals had potential to influence strategies and resources used for dealing with taste and smell alterations,” writes Dr. Belqaid in the online medical journal PLoS One.  

Nutrition During Mesothelioma Treatment is Critical

But it is not just about making mesothelioma treatment more tolerable. Appetite is closely linked to taste, smell and mouth feel. Just when a mesothelioma patient may find food least appealing – and may be experiencing treatment-related appetite loss anyway – is when good, supportive nutrition is critical.

Cancer experts recommend a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, which supply vital nutrients that can help the body repair damage caused by cancer treatment. Nutrient-packed foods can also help boost energy and help cancer patients maintain their strength and weight. Lean protein from meat and eggs is also important for rebuilding damaged tissue.

The good news is that taste and smell typically return to normal when mesothelioma therapy is over. Until that happens, however, mesothelioma patients and their doctors need to be diligent to make sure that sensory changes do not negatively impact their nutritional status, which has been shown to be related to mesothelioma survival.


Belqaid, K, et al, “Dealing with taste and smell alterations-A qualitative interview study of people treated for lung cancer”, January 23, 2018, PLoS One

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