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Can Treatment for Prostate Cancer Affect Smell and Taste?


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One in six men being treated for advanced prostate cancer reported experiencing a reduced sense of smell and taste, according to a study published by Alonzi et al in the journal Supportive Care in Cancer. The study authors noted that a reduced sense of smell and taste among some patients with prostate cancer may be associated with poor appetite and weight loss. The results may have important implications for patients with cancer undergoing hormone therapy, chemotherapy, and/or bone antiresorptive therapy during the coronavirus crisis.

“We wanted to make sure the article mentioned the significance of patients with advanced prostate cancer experiencing losses in taste/smell as a side effect of their cancer treatment during the pandemic,” said Laura Perry, a Tulane doctoral student in psychology and one of the study’s authors. “Since [loss of taste/smell is] a commonly known symptom of COVID-19, the experience may be appraised by patients as especially stressful at this time.”  

Ms. Perry said most symptom assessments in patients with cancer do not ask about their sense of taste or smell.

“Our findings suggest these [questions] could be a valuable addition to routine assessments in prostate cancer,” she said.

Rates of Changes in Taste and Smell

KEY POINTS

  • Of the patients questioned, 17% experienced poor taste of food and 8% experienced poor sense of smell.
  • Participants were more likely to experience reduced sense of taste if they were being treated with the drugs denosumab or docetaxel, and they were more likely to experience weight loss if experiencing poor taste of food or poor appetite.
  • Nausea was associated with an increased likelihood of experiencing poor taste and smell.

The study surveyed 75 men with advanced prostate cancer, asking them about their appetite, nausea while eating, and taste and smell of food over a 15-month period. Of the patients questioned, 17% experienced poor taste of food and 8% experienced poor sense of smell. Participants were more likely to experience reduced sense of taste if they were being treated with the drugs denosumab or docetaxel, and they were more likely to experience weight loss if experiencing poor taste of food or poor appetite. Nausea was associated with an increased likelihood of experiencing poor taste and smell.

The study incorporated demographics, treatments, and weight data from electronic health records. Participants in the study were from the greater New Orleans area, where food and eating are central to the city’s culture. If patients with cancer can no longer enjoy the pleasure associated with food, that, too, can affect them emotionally, researchers said.

“For patients with advanced cancer, losing their sense of taste and smell can have profound impacts on their emotional well-being and ability to engage with others socially,” said Ms. Perry.

Lead author Sarah Alonzi, a lab manager in the Tulane Department of Psychology, agreed. “I hope that communicating these findings improve patients’ awareness that treatment-related reduction in taste and smell can occur, providing some reassurance for those experiencing these symptoms,” she said.

Based on the findings of this study, the authors suggest that clinicians should regularly query patients for changes in sense of taste and smell, especially patients who are experiencing weight loss. During the pandemic, they said, it is especially important that clinicians make patients aware of the potential for treatment-related reduction in taste and smell to reduce anxiety associated with COVID-19.

Disclosure: For full disclosures of the study authors, visit link.springer.com.

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.
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