Taste Function in Adults Undergoing Cancer Radiotherapy or Chemotherapy, and Implications for Nutrition Management: A Systematic Review

Published:October 16, 2020DOI:



      Taste changes are commonly reported by people with cancer undergoing radio- or chemotherapy. Taste changes may compromise dietary intake and nutritional status.


      To understand whether or not taste change is associated with cancer diagnosis or treatment modality in adults.


      A systematic literature search up to December 31, 2019, was conducted using PubMed, Embase, and PsycInfo (International Prospective Register of Systematic Reviews protocol no. CRD42019134005). Studies in adults with cancer objectively assessing the effect of a cancer diagnosis or chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy treatment on taste function compared with healthy controls or within participant changes were included. Additional outcomes were food liking, appetite, dietary intake, nutritional status, and body composition. Reference lists of relevant articles were searched to identify additional articles. Quality was assessed using the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics quality criteria checklist.


      A total of 24 articles were included, one of which consisted of two studies that reported the effects of radiotherapy and chemotherapy separately. From the total 25 studies reported in 24 published articles, 14 studies examined effects of radiotherapy, and remaining 11 studies examined chemotherapy. There is limited evidence of a cancer diagnosis per se contributing to taste dysfunction. Impaired taste function was reported in almost all radiotherapy studies, occurring as early as Week 3 of treatment and lasting for 3 to 24 months posttreatment. During chemotherapy, impairment of taste function was less consistently reported, occurring as early as the first few days of chemotherapy, and persisting up to 6 months posttreatment. Taxane-based chemotherapy was reported to affect taste function more than other treatments. Several studies reported reduced liking for food, appetite, and dietary intake. Only one study reported nutritional status of participants, finding no association between taste function and nutritional status. No studies examined associations between taste changes and body composition.


      This review highlights the importance of considering treatment modality in practice. Research is required to identify factors contributing to taste alteration and to inform evidence-based interventions.


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      N. Kiss are senior lecturers, School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences and Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition, Deakin University, Burwood, Victoria, Australia.


      S.-Y. Tan are senior lecturers, School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences and Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition, Deakin University, Burwood, Victoria, Australia.


      K. Symons are master of dietetics students, School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, Deakin University, Burwood, Victoria, Australia.


      J. Hewitt are master of dietetics students, School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, Deakin University, Burwood, Victoria, Australia.


      H. Davis are master of dietetics students, School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, Deakin University, Burwood, Victoria, Australia.


      C. Ting are master of dietetics students, School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, Deakin University, Burwood, Victoria, Australia.


      A. Lee are master of dietetics students, School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, Deakin University, Burwood, Victoria, Australia.


      A. Boltong is an honorary principal fellow, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, University of Melbourne, Carlton, Victoria, Australia; and an associate director, Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre, Royal Melbourne Hospital, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.


      R. M. Tucker is an assistant professor, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, Michigan State University, East Lansing.