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Squamous Cell Carcinoma and Taste Buds

  • Ask the Nutritionist

    Q: My husband completed 35 radiation sessions and 6 chemotherapy treatments for squamous cell carcinoma of the neck lymph node and tonsil. As a result, his taste buds were killed. Are there any exercises you recommend to help the taste buds?

    CF, Troy, NY

    A: It is common for chemotherapy treatments to affect the sensitivity of the taste buds. In order to reduce some of the bad tastes of the foods your husband is eating, we have a few recommendations. The first is to eat foods that are more sour or bitter, as this can help produce more saliva. These foods include citrus, kiwi, pomegranate, and ginger.

    Another idea is to cleanse the taste buds before eating, by rinsing with salted water, tea, or water with baking soda. In general, being well hydrated may also help reduce taste change symptoms. Chewing gum or a mint after eating can remove any strange lingering flavors. Small but frequent meals are often better tolerated in patients who have these taste alterations. Some studies have also shown that certain drugs like bethanechol can improve taste perception, but the addition of any additional medications should be first discussed with your husband’s treatment team.

    Here is a blog post about taste buds that may provide additional information.

  • Nutrition & Diet
  • Dana-Farber Nutrition Team

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