Side Effects – Swallowing, Smell and Taste Changes

Extracted from

Problems swallowing, also called dysphagia, can make eating an uncomfortable process. During meals, you may experience gagging, choking, coughing, spitting, or pain when trying to swallow. The sensation that food is stuck in your throat, upper chest, or behind the breastbone can cause feelings of chest pain, heaviness, or pressure.

The following breast cancer treatments can affect your ability to swallow:

Some pain medications also can cause swallowing problems.

Managing swallowing problems

  • Eat slowly and chew food thoroughly to make it as soft and manageable as possible.
  • Try thicker liquids such as milkshakes, yogurt, pudding, and gelatin. Thicker liquids may be easier to swallow.
  • Eat pureed food such as blended meats, cereals, and fruits. You may need to add some liquid.
  • Stay away from dry foods such as crackers, nuts, and chips.
  • Avoid very hot foods, as these could cause more swallowing pain or difficulty.
  • Don’t eat spicy and acidic foods that can irritate your mouth and throat.
  • Ask your doctor if you can crush medicines that are in pill or tablet form and mix with juice or applesauce. Make sure to check with your doctor or pharmacist first — some medicines can be dangerous if crushed. Other medicines react badly with certain foods and others must be taken on an empty stomach.
  • Avoid alcohol — it can burn your mouth or throat if you have sores.
  • Sit up and stay seated while eating to ease the swallowing process.


Certain medications can change the way the receptors in your mouth and nose tell your brain what you’re tasting or smelling. Some foods may taste bitter, rancid, or metallic. Foods that used to be your favorites may taste different while you’re getting treatment. This condition usually only lasts as long as treatment does — in most cases, your will senses will return to normal a couple months after you’re done.

The following breast cancer treatments can affect your sense of taste and smell:

Some pain medications also can affect your sense of taste and smell.

Managing taste and smell changes

  • Try new foods. If you find yourself disliking your favorite foods, try foods that are different from what you normally eat. Be sure to try new foods when you’re feeling good so you don’t develop more food dislikes.
  • Eat lightly and several hours before you receive chemotherapy. This helps prevent food aversions caused by nausea or vomiting after chemotherapy.
  • Ask another person to cook for you, or rely on prepared foods from a store if you can’t stand the smell of food. You can also order take-out.
  • Try eating cold foods such as yogurt, cottage cheese, or a sandwich because there will be fewer smells.
  • Try eating with plastic utensils if your food tastes like metal.
  • Rinse your mouth with tea, ginger ale, salted water, or baking soda dissolved in water before you eat to help clear your taste buds.
  • Suck on ice chips in between bites to help numb taste buds.
  • Try other sources of protein such as chicken, turkey, fish, or soy foods if red meat doesn’t taste right. Eggs also have a lot of protein.
  • Eat fresh vegetables. They may be more appealing to you than canned or frozen ones. Canned soups and vegetables may have a metallic taste.
  • Try peeled, sweet baby carrots instead of large unpeeled carrots, which often taste extremely bitter.
  • Don’t force yourself to eat foods that taste bad to you. Find substitutes that you can tolerate.

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