Study: Every sixth man with advanced prostate cancer suffers from a decreased sense of smell and taste

One in six men being treated for advanced prostate cancer has decreased senses of smell and taste, a symptom that can lead to increased anxiety in patients as it is also a side effect of COVID-19, according to Tulane researchers.

A study published in the journal Supportive Care in Cancer found that decreased senses of smell and taste in some prostate cancer patients are largely linked to loss of appetite and weight loss.

Although data collection for the study was done prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the results have important implications for cancer patients undergoing hormone therapy, chemotherapy, and / or bone antiresorptive drugs during the coronavirus crisis.

“We wanted to make sure the article mentioned the importance of patients with advanced prostate cancer who experience loss of taste / smell as a side effect of their cancer treatment during the pandemic,” said Laura Perry, a Tulane PhD student in psychology and one of the study authors . “Since this is a well-known symptom of COVID-19, the experience of patients at this point can be classified as particularly stressful.”

Perry said that most symptom ratings in cancer patients don’t ask patients about their sense of taste or smell. “Our results suggest that this could be a valuable addition to routine prostate cancer exams,” she said.

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

The study included demographics, treatments, and weight data from electronic health records.

Participants in the study came from the greater New Orleans area, where food and drink are central to the city’s culture. When cancer patients can no longer enjoy the pleasures associated with eating, it can also affect them emotionally, researchers said.

“For advanced cancer patients, the loss of their sense of taste and smell can have a profound effect on their emotional well-being and ability to interact socially with others,” said Perry.

Lead author Sarah Alonzi, laboratory director at the Tulane Department of Psychology, agreed. “I hope that communicating these results will improve patient awareness that treatment-related reductions in taste and smell can occur, providing some reassurance for those experiencing these symptoms,” she said.

Based on the results of this study, the authors suggest that doctors should regularly question patients about changes in their sense of taste and smell, especially patients suffering from weight loss. During the pandemic, it is especially important that doctors make patients aware of the potential for treatment-related reductions in taste and smell to reduce COVID-19 anxiety.

The research team consisted of authors from Tulane’s downtown and downtown campuses, a collaboration nurtured by the Louisiana Clinical and Translational Science Center and the Louisiana Cancer Research Center.

The Tulane team included Alonzi and Perry as well as Michael Hoerger, Assistant Professor of Psychology at the Tulane School of Science and Engineering and Assistant Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at the Tulane Cancer Center. The Tulane team also included a group from the Tulane Cancer Center, including Dr. Oliver Sartor, Charlotte Manogue, Patrick Cotogno and Elisa Ledet.

Lydia Chow from the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine and Emma Ernst from Tufts University School of Medicine also contributed to the study.


Journal reference:

Alonzi, S. et al. (2021) Changes in the taste and smell of food during treatment for prostate cancer. Supportive treatment for cancer.

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