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Mentor/Fellow Article

Understanding Taste Dysfunction in Patients With Cancer

Laura McLaughlin
Suzanne M. Mahon
CJON 2012, 16(2), 171-178 DOI: 10.1188/12.CJON.171-178

Taste dysfunction is a significant but underestimated issue for patients with cancer. Impaired taste results in changes in diet and appetite, early satiety, and impaired social interactions. Nurses can play a key role in educating patients and families on the pathophysiology of taste dysfunction by suggesting interventions to treat the consequences of taste dysfunction, when available, and offering psychosocial support as patients cope with this often devastating consequence of treatment. Taste recognition helps humans identify the nutritional quality of food and signals the digestive tract to begin secreting enzymes. Spoiled or tainted foods typically are recognized by their bad taste. Along with the other sensory systems, taste is crucial for helping patients treated for cancer feel normal. This article will review the anatomy and physiology of taste; define the different types of taste dysfunction, including the underlying pathophysiologic basis related to cancer treatment; and discuss potential nursing interventions to manage the consequences of taste dysfunction.

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