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J Pain Symptom Manage. 2007 Feb;33(2):156-65.

Chemosensory dysfunction is a primary factor in the evolution of declining nutritional status and quality of life in patients with advanced cancer.

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Department of Agricultural Food & Nutritional Science, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.


Alterations in taste and smell functions have been reported in cancer patients. Although these senses are known to be particularly affected by chemotherapy, many features of chemosensory perception in cancer patients remain obscure. The relative importance of chemosensory changes in the etiology of malnutrition and wasting is not known. To assess this relationship, self-perceived taste and smell function were evaluated using a validated questionnaire in 66 patients with advanced cancer receiving palliative care (median survival 7.4 months). Participants also completed 3-day food records to assess dietary intake, and the Functional Assessment of Anorexia/Cachexia Therapy questionnaire to assess quality of life (QOL). Total chemosensory complaint scores ranged from 0 to 14 on a 16-point scale. Only 14% of the subjects reported no chemosensory complaints of any kind, whereas 86% reported some degree of chemosensory abnormality. The most common complaints were persistent bad taste in the mouth, taste distortion, and heightened sensitivity to odors. Subjects with severe chemosensory complaints showed substantially lower energy intakes (by 900-1,100 kcal/day), higher rates of weight loss, and lower QOL scores than subjects with mild or moderate chemosensory complaints. Severe chemosensory dysfunction is persistent well beyond the window of active therapy in patients with advanced cancer and represents a primary factor relating to malnutrition, wasting, and poor QOL. Further research is required to identify appropriate strategies to alleviate this important group of symptoms, to determine whether intervention will improve QOL, and to match foods and diet to the unique chemosensory profile of advanced cancer patients.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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