Sunday, February 5, 2012

Metal Mouth

Many patients getting chemotherapy complain of taste changes (and some experience changes in their sense of smell too).  The official medical name is called Dysgeusia, but no one really calls it this.  We call it taste disturbance, alteration in taste or "metal mouth".  One of my patients told me the taste was "like chewing on  a ball of aluminum foil".

Chemotherapy affects the rapidly dividing cells the most.  Think of these places as the spots with mucous membranes or gentle linings/delicate skin.  The mouth, the hair follicles, the throat, your whole digestive tract, the bone marrow...these are the places that are most sensitive to chemotherapy.  That is why with some chemotherapy drugs-your hair falls out, you get mouth sores, or throat sores, or diarrhea, and your blood counts drop (because your bone marrow is affected).  Discouraging to hear, but remember, most of these side effects are temporary.

They don't know exactly why some cancer patients lose their taste,  but it makes sense that if you can get mouth sores on the gentle lining of your mouth, it makes sense that the delicate tissue of your tongue would be affected too.  Your taste buds are on your tongue and so your taste can be affected.

Some patients complain of a metal taste in their mouths.  Sometimes it lasts for a few days each cycle of chemo and sometimes it hangs around all the time.  Some patients only get it when the chemo is infusing or when the port-a-cath is being flushed.

Also I hear complaints of a "pasty taste" or that their taste is "just not right".   Foods that they have always loved, just don't seem to taste right.

The bad news?  There is no 100% antidote for this.  When chemo is over (or within a month or so after it is over), this will go away.  That is hardly a consolation when you have 4 more months of chemotherapy in your future.

The good news?  Here are a few tips that might help you.  Bottom line:  it's trial and error on your part to see what works for you, as everyone is different.

Some things that may help you with the metal taste:

Use plastic utensils instead  It may seem silly but for a lot of patients these really help.  Carry spares in your purse.

Glass vs Metal Cookware (pyrex, glass casserole dishes etc)

Use mints, gum, hard candies.  Try the sharp or more "sour" tasting candies.  The ones with "pucker power" tend to be more favored.  In our clinic we give lemon flavored hard candies for patients to suck on during the port flush or during the chemo administration when the metal taste is stronger.  I would advise every cancer patient keep a small stash in your purse or your clinic bag.

Also, eat foods that are chilled or at colder temperatures to see if that makes a difference.

If meat is particularly "off", try different marinades.

Spices, herbs, seasonings.  Keep in mind if you are the cancer patient and you are also the cook for your family, your taste being off can lead to some heavy duty eye watering and coughing at the dinner table when you might have "seasoned to taste".  Have someone volunteer to be a "taster".  Or better still....let someone else do the cooking!!!!

Some patients getting radiation treatments to the head and neck also complain of these changes.

Here's my shout out to a great website that we use a lot in our chemo clinic.  We print out info sheets of whatever particular chemotherapy drugs our patients are starting and we give them to our patients and review the "most expected" side effects with them.  It is Scott Hamilton's venture:

Here's their list of the chemo drugs that are more likely to alter your taste:
5 FU

This final product, I can't vouch for.  I just found it online.  Very pricey water at $26 for a twelve pack.  But if you are bothered by metal taste and this helps I'm all for it, as dehydration is one of the side effects of chemo that we most want to prevent.

If you try it and it is great, please let me know.  If you try it and it is bunk, please let me know that too and I will remove it from this post.

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