Cancer treatment side effects and what you can do about them

Changes in taste and smell

Cancer and its treatment can change your child’s senses of taste and smell. These changes may make foods taste bitter or metallic and can affect your child’s appetite. Here are some tips that may help you get your child to eat:

  • Serve foods cold or at room temperature. This can decrease the foods’ tastes and smells, making them easier to tolerate.
  • To reduce smells
    • Cover drinks, and have your child drink through a straw.
    • Choose foods that don’t need to be cooked.
    • Don’t cook foods with strong odors when your child is around.
    • Avoid eating in rooms that are stuffy or too warm.
  • Try using plastic flatware and glass cups and plates if your child has a metallic taste in his mouth while eating.
  • Try foods or drinks that are different from ones your child usually eats. Children seem to like salty foods, such as chips, pretzels, and crackers. (Remember, if your child is getting steroids sodium may be a problem, but there are low sodium varieties of many snack foods.)
  • Freeze fruits such as cantaloupe, grapes, oranges, and watermelon, or buy frozen blueberries and strawberries and eat them as frozen treats.
  • Offer fresh vegetables. They may be more appealing than canned or frozen ones.
  • Try marinating meats to make them more tender.
  • If red meats taste strange, try other protein-rich foods such as chicken, fish, eggs, or cheese.
  • Blend fresh fruits into shakes, smoothies, ice cream, or yogurt.
  • Keep your child’s mouth clean by regular rinsing and brushing, which can help foods taste better.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Revised: June 30, 2014

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