Sarah Harding: Dr Hilary outlines breast cancer symptoms
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Cancer treatment is notorious for turning the taste of certain food unpalatable. There is evidence, however, that the disease itself could cause food aversion. In early research, several cancers were found to cause a strong dislike of four foods. What’s more, alterations in taste were reported in as many as one in four patients.
According to Cancer Net, bitter, sweet or salty foods may taste differently than before during treatment for cancer.
Cancer.Net: “Taste changes can lead to loss of appetite and weight loss. It can cause a strong dislike of certain foods, also called food aversion.”
According to early research by Doctor Thurstan Brewin, who focussed closely on alcohol intolerance and altered taste in cancer patients, aversions could be a manifestation of several forms of cancer.
The researcher came to the finding after conducting extensive research, involving detailed questioning of thousands of patients.
READ MORE: Cancer symptoms: The ‘feeling’ that strikes first thing in the morning – it’s a red flag
In a report published in the journal of Clinical Radiology, he highlighted frequent food aversions spotted in one in four of the patients studied.
He noted: “For two men with lung cancer it was sausages that became distasteful (one said for two years before diagnosis, the other three years.
“Whereas for one they lost their flavour and tasted like leather, for the other, they become too highly flavoured.”
He continued: “Two women with carcinoma of the cervix, […] had a specific aversion for eggs (one for six years before diagnosis, the other for four months before).”
Normal enjoyment of eggs, however, returned months after treatment, noted Doctor Brewin.“Loss of [the] normal flavour made cheese completely unpalatable for five years before the diagnosis of Stage IIB carcinoma of the cervix and for three years before a diagnosis of inoperable lung cancer,” he added.
Once again here, the normal taste was restored after the completion of radiotherapy.
He added that “a man of 44 years of age, who said that eating cheese had become like eating chewing gum”, also found relief from his symptoms after undergoing therapy.
Finally, frequent reports about the taste of tea becoming “most unpleasant” were made over the course of the study.
The American Cancer Society explains that alterations in taste are generally caused by tumours growing in the head and neck area.
Receiving swift treatment is of the utmost importance as changes in taste perception can eventually lead to malnutrition.
In a report published in the journal of Frontiers in Physiology in 2017, researchers highlighted the need to recognise taste alterations as a manifestation of cancer.
They wrote: “Changes in taste perception are especially important in diseases like cancer, which is one of the main causes of morbidity and mortality throughout the world.
“Altered taste perception in cancer subjects is usually ignored by clinicians as this aspect does not represent the life-threatening event.”
The scientists stressed that taste alteration could be an “alarming early sign” of tumour cell invasion in patients.
They continued: “The most distressing symptoms in patients with advanced cancer are gastrointestinal abnormalities, whereas the change in taste is the fourth most common symptom after dry mouth, weight loss and early satiety.”
Although Doctor Brewin reported taste aversion in a quarter of his patients, larger-scale studies estimate around 15 in 100 patients suffer some degree of taste aversion.
Researchers suggest disruptions of the gut microbiota may be accountable for taste changes in cancer patients.
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