Self-reported and objective taste and smell evaluation in treatment-naive solid tumour patients

  • Pauline Uí Dhuibhir
  • Michelle Barrett
  • Niamh O’Donoghue
  • Charles Gillham
  • Nazmy El Beltagi
  • Declan WalshEmail author
Original Article



Taste and smell abnormalities (TSA) commonly occur in cancer and are associated with anorexia, early satiety, malnutrition, weight loss and reduced quality of life. A recent study found a high TSA prevalence in newly diagnosed cancer patients before treatment. This suggests that TSA may originate from the tumour itself. No previous study has examined TSA, both subjectively and objectively, in newly diagnosed, treatment-naïve cancer patients. This study aimed to address this gap.


This prospective observational study recruited consecutive, newly diagnosed, treatment-naïve patients with solid tumours at Radiation Oncology Out-patients. Self-reported taste and smell changes since becoming ill were evaluated using modified Taste and Smell Survey, and objective taste and smell tests were conducted using ‘Sniffin’ Sticks Olfactory Test® and Burghart Taste Strips®. Nutritional status was assessed with abridged Patient-Generated Subjective Global Assessment.


Thirty completed the study. Seventy-four per cent had at least one TSA. Taste changes and/or abnormalities were more prevalent than smell, and subjective taste changes more common than objective abnormalities. Although less common, smell abnormalities impacted quality of life more. TSA characteristics were heterogeneous. Forty-seven per cent were at malnutrition risk. No association was found between TSA and nutritional status.


Over two thirds had at least one TSA and almost half were at malnutrition risk. Self-reported TSA included changes in taste and smell perception, and most commonly persistent bad taste. This study demonstrated the complexity of TSA assessment and the prevalence, severity and impact of these and related symptoms in treatment-naïve cancer patients.


Cancer Nutrition Taste Smell Symptoms 



We would like to acknowledge the nursing and administration staff at the Radiation Oncology Out-patient at St James Hospital for their assistance with data collection processes.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

This study has not been previously published.

We have full control of all primary data and can allow the journal to review the data if requested.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Academic Department of Palliative MedicineOur Lady’s Hospice & Care ServicesDublinIreland
  2. 2.School of Nursing, Midwifery & Health ScienceUniversity College DublinDublinIreland
  3. 3.School of Nursing & MidwiferyTrinity College DublinDublinIreland
  4. 4.School of MedicineTrinity College DublinDublinIreland
  5. 5.St. Luke’s Radiation Oncology NetworkSt James’ HospitalDublinIreland
  6. 6.School of Medicine & Medical ScienceUniversity College DublinDublinIreland
  7. 7.Department of Supportive OncologyLevine Cancer InstituteCharlotteUSA

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