Side effects of chemotherapy - changes in smell and taste

Many patients report that chemotherapy, especially when given with radiation therapy to the head and neck, can interfere with their senses of taste and smell. You may find that food simply doesn’t taste as good as it once did, or that some foods you previously enjoyed are now distasteful. Many patients complain of a metallic taste, and find it difficult to eat because food is no longer pleasurable. It’s important to maintain good nutrition in spite of this side effect, which may last as long as you are under treatment, but which does almost always resolve one treatment is completed. The simple way to manage changes in taste and smell is to avoid those things which are unpleasant and eat those things you still enjoy. For some patients, this means relying on bland foods; for others, extra spice is better. In any case, make certain that you get a balanced diet with sufficient calories to maintain yourself during the difficult process of treatment.

One side effect of chemotherapy that can be unavoidable and is most often permanent is a change in hormonal status for women and in fertility for both men and women. Couples interested in having children may wish to freeze sperm before a man undergoes chemotherapy. Women should discuss the possible side effects on their hormonal cycle, including early menopause, with their physicians. Sometimes it is possible to re-design treatment regimens to minimize these effects, and it is usually possible to manage the symptoms (hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, insomnia, irritability) with diet and lifestyle changes, or appropriate medications. Although fertility problems are common with chemotherapy, they are by no means certain. Pregnancy should be avoided, and contraception used, during treatment, because many of the drugs needed to treat cancer cannot be used in pregnant women for fear of injuring the developing baby.

Vision problems

Eye problems that can develop during chemotherapy treatment include dry eyes, conjunctivitis, cataracts, photophobia and watery eyes.

More on eye problems

Cognitive impairment due to chemotherapy

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