Radiation causing food to taste rancid.

vhalphen Member Posts: 2 Member
edited October 2023 in Head and Neck Cancer #1

Hubby is having radiation to both sides of his neck. He just completed treatment 19 of 25. When he first puts food in his mouth, he can taste it and then as he chews it, he says, "It taste rancid or like a dirty wet gym sock" He does not have any mouth sores, just a very inflamed throat with a little white on it. Oncologist says it is not thrush. Basically, he is barely eating because when the food gets in the back of his mouth or when he chews it. The taste makes him feel nauseas. So, he is using high calorie protein shakes and other high calorie drinks. He does manage to eat a piece of chicken or something daily. He says he can handle the discomfort of swallowing, but the saliva taste is awful. I am looking for any remedies that have helped any of you. He starting weight was 189 now he is 176.


  • wbcgaruss
    wbcgaruss Member Posts: 2,274 Member

    vhalphen welcome to the CSN H&N discussion board. This is a common problem with H&N treatment and radiation and chemotherapy can both affect taste. People going through this experience a bad taste such as your husband or many times what is more common is no taste at all. Either way, it leads to difficulty eating and getting enough calories in. I myself experienced the no-flavor situation where I would describe food tasting as cardboard. I know how hard it is to eat with no taste and I can imagine it is equally as bad or worse with bad taste. What I did and recall others on this board doing is just knowing how many calories they needed to have to maintain their weight and just chewing and swallowing and forcing it through. And the person needs to keep in their mind they will have to do this as a temporary situation to get them through their treatment and the time this affects them. It is one more part of this treatment that is not easy. Also, you can choose certain foods, use plastic utensils, or eat foods cold. Below is a link that gives an explanation of what is going on and further down the page some tips on dealing with this. Also, talk to your care team if you find the need or if he is losing too much weight. Also, search this on the net and you will see tons of info ("Radiation causing food to taste rancid.")

    Take Care, God Bless-Russ

    Another Link--


  • SuzJ
    SuzJ Member Posts: 427 Member

    Make very high calorie shakes, I did Boost, with carnation instant breakfast (always strawberry ) with protein powder, ice cream, banana, strawberries, ice, can add cream - toss it all in the blender, its around 900 - 1200 calories, and it takes a while to drink.

    It wasn't the taste of the food, it was the smell - I could smell everything!

  • RobbT
    RobbT Member Posts: 17 Member

    My wife made cream of wheat and mashed potatoes all the time as it did get hard for me to eat and swallow with the radiation I chased that down with high power ensure and was able to keep some weight on. That was 6 years ago now and my taste buds are different still and things I liked I don’t know and visa versa. But I mostly eat everything that I used to. Hang in there.

  • motorcycleguy
    motorcycleguy Member Posts: 478 Member


    SuzJ had the same solution my (now) fiance did for me - high calorie/nutrition shakes - and I had no trouble chugging them.

    Radiation damages taste buds and they regenerate about every 6 months. So, after radiation treatment, it took me 6 months to start being able to eat most foods.

    The secret is to realize that this is tough for everyone, but that time will get you back on track. I know it's a big challenge until you get there!


  • jhoehn76
    jhoehn76 Member Posts: 2 *

    I feel for you my husband just finished his treatments. He did 32 with 6 treatments of chemo. He has been done for about one week know and I’m in tears still. He has the same complaints and I hate to tell you this but most of the time it gets a lot worse. His worse was actually the week of his last treatments and now that he has finished. Unable to even get water down we closed to get a peg tube. I would do this honestly before he gets to bad. My husband went from 273 down to 232 in a matter of 3-4 weeks. I am so sorry you are having to go threw this journey also because being a wife it does take a toll on us just as much. He is a farmer so being the time of year this is the worse time a farmer can be down. I pray that he does not get this bad but stay on top of it. We also did some healing touch therapy and that seemed to be the day he had a big turn around but he is still unable to work and do much. I would consider getting a peg tube honestly. His doctors suggested it from the beginning but we both refused but then it got to be a failure to thrive thing. We were told that this type of cancer has a 95% survival rate but if he was a smoker or heavy drinking that goes down to 50%🥴 we just lost his dad 3 weeks prior to him being diagnosed them his mom 15 Mo this prior to that. We have 5 kids and 2 weeks ago I really did not think he was going to make it since he was so I’ll. Take all the meds they will give you for pain or nausea. He really went down hill after having a allergic reaction to one of the pre meds they give him before chemo. Im not for sure where you are located but the doctors said that 1/3 people they see have the same type of cancer. It is very exhausting trying to keep up with everything we have been married almost 23 years and this is the toughest thing we had to go through. Lots of prayers for you. But this would be my suggest is to get the peg tube for nutrition. Reach out to your oncologist they should be able to help with setting that up.

  • jhoehn76
    jhoehn76 Member Posts: 2 *

    It is not thrush so I totally also believe that . It gets to the point the esophagus starts sloughing off and this will cause a very bad cough and very thick drainage . My husband could not swallow it so he was constantly spitting it out. Good luck again hope my info helps some. Prayers for you all.

  • wbcgaruss
    wbcgaruss Member Posts: 2,274 Member

    jhoehn, it will get worse for a couple of weeks before it starts getting better once you finish treatment. Lean on your care team and ask them questions. They should have solutions for all your situations. Get the feeding tube he needs calories and nutrition to recover. He will get through this. Have confidence, one day at a time. Pray a lot. As far as the thich phlegm, yes spit it out but also rinse in between as often as necessary with baking soda salt mix. I will post below with recipes easy to eat for weight gain some can be put in a feeding tube. Have him sleep in a recliner or propped up if you don't have one because of the thick phlegm. Recovery from H&N cancer treatment is a slow process measured in weeks and months, it is a slow process so be patient, one day at a time. He should start feeling a bit better 4-8 weeks out of treatment and be recovered in 6-8 months to a year.

    Feel free to ask questions.

    Wishing You the Best

    Take Care, God Bless-Russ

    Calorie and weight gain recipes below salt mixes

    jhoehn Here Are Recipes

    For the salt/baking soda mixes.

    Rinse as often or as little as needed to deal with thick saliva even the stringy stuff.

    The trick is to stay ahead of it as best you can.

    There are no easy solutions but this will eventually quit.

    You may find it beneficial to sleep in a recliner to keep the thick stuff out of your throat and airway.

    Laying down directs it to the back of your mouth/throat area.

    Even in a recliner I would wake up at times with my air cut off and had to work at getting it cleared out.

    Wishing You The Best-Take Care-God Bless-Russ

    Mouth Rinse Recipes to Use During Chemotherapy

    Soda and Salt Mouth Rinse

    1/4 teaspoon baking soda

    1/8 teaspoon salt

    1 cup of warm water

    Mix well until salt dissolves. Rinse your mouth gently, being careful not to swallow the mixture. Follow this with a plain water rinse to clean out any remaining salt or soda.

    Soda Mouth Rinse: A Good Rinse for Before You Eat

    1 teaspoon baking soda

    1 cup of warm water

    Mix well to dissolve the baking soda. This is a good rinse to use before and after a meal because it may soothe any mucositis pain you have, making it easier for you to eat well. Swish and spit, but don't swallow this mixture.

    Saltwater Mouth Rinse

    1/4 teaspoon salt

    1 cup of warm water

    Mix well to dissolve the salt. This saltwater rinse is close to the natural chemistry of your own saliva. This may make mouth sores feel better. Rinse well with plain water to remove excess salt.

    Salt and Soda Rinse for Gummy Mouth

    Some chemotherapy drugs can increase the acidity in your mouth, leading to thick saliva that can be very annoying.

    This rinse works well for "gummy mouth."

    1/2 teaspoon salt

    2 tablespoons baking soda

    4 cups of warm water

    This rinse will help to neutralize the acid in your mouth and will help dissolve or loosen thick, gummy saliva. Don't drink it, just rinse and spit it out.

    Peroxide Rinse for Crusted Sores

    If your mouth sores are crusting over, it's important to allow the natural healing process in your body to continue, so a peroxide rinse should be used for no more than two days consecutively.

    1 cup hydrogen peroxide

    1 cup water or

    1 cup salt water (1 teaspoon of salt in 4 cups of water)

    If you have crusty mouth sores, try using this rinse three or four times a day for two days. Don't use it for more than two days at a time, because it could prevent mucositis from healing.

    Use a non-peroxide rinse for two days, before returning to this mixture.

    The 2 times I had substantial treatment for cancer I had a feeding tube and both times when it was finished it took a while to gain the weight back. I think now I am pushing to be a bit overweight but I found through my experience it is good to have a little reserve. To gain weight, for now, don't worry about any certain food, I recommend eating food that has a substantial amount of calories and or fat also. Like bacon and eggs, or sausage and eggs and or pancakes, waffles, etc. with lots of butter and syrup. Cheeses are good to add also such as cheese topping on a bowl of chili. Also after my last bout out of the hospital, I had lost a good bit of weight also and had a bit of trouble putting it back on so I purchased Boost VHC (Very High Calorie) and was drinking one in the morning with breakfast including trying to eat at least 3 meals a day of some size. This boost is 530 calories per 8 ounces serving and you can drink more than one a day till your weight picks up. This is a quick easy drink to pack in 530 calories. Usually, the Boost VHC is mostly available online unless you can find it locally mostly regular boost is in the stores. Here is a link showing the product made by Nestle https://www.nestlenutritionstore.com/boost-very-high-calorie.html I bought it by the case on eBay but you can buy it online in many places like Walmart online etc.

    Also eat a bunch of snacks like candy, cupcakes, peanut butter crackers, etc. you can fit one in anytime your sittin around. Also, nuts like peanuts, cashews, almonds, etc. have a lot of calories and are even good for ya.

    Also here is a weight gain recipe that 2 ladies shared that I found a long time ago related to cancer and gaining weight afterward--


    So sorry I’ve taken so long to get that receipe for your dad! I checked with our nurses and here it is:

    1 box (3.4oz) of instant pudding

    3/4 cup half & half cream

    1/2 cup of water

    1 cup of carnation evaporated milk (use canned not powdered etc.)

    Mix together in a bowl then mix with a mixer for one minute until it begins to thicken. This receipe makes 4 servings. We use it to help individual’s we serve who are under weight to assist in gaining weight. As you can see…it is very rich and full of calories etc. Let us know how your dad is doing!


    These Recipes and Tips Are From Debbiel0 on CSN H&N Section

    And here is another communication shared recently with me by a lady on this forum concerning weight gain after cancer treatment and I am sure she would be glad if I would share it--

    • Coffee cream ( 18%) 1 cup 480 calories
    • Coconut milk 1/3 cup 150 calories
    • Greek style yogurt 1 cup 270 cal
    • 2 tbsp Ground Flax seed 100 cal
    • 3 tbsp Hemp Hearts 170 cal
    • 1 tsp nut butter 100 cal
    • 1 tsp honey 100 cal
    • banana 80 cal.

    I would mix all of the above into a shake for my husband. It makes about 3 - 3 1/2 cups and 1300 calories.. he would sip on it all day. Then we would make him soft eggs or oatmeal to top off the calories for the day. Jello or pudding and ice cream are also another easy foods to slide down.

    Using coffee cream when making soups, or sauces, cooking oatmeal in it, using it for puddings. Is an easy way to boost calorie intake. The Hemp Hearts and ground Flax can be expensive. If you have access to Costco, they are reasonably priced there. ( at least in canada that is the way it is)

    Use honey as much as you can in tea or coffee, or just in warm water.

    I think the best advice I got from our nutritionist was to think outside the box and add cream or greek yogurt to what ever you can think of. Throw in a couple of tbsps of flax or hemp seeds to soups, your boost, hot cereal cooked in heavy cream. Mashed potatoes with heavy cream and lots of gooey gravy is always good too.

    Hope some of these ideas help. Another well balanced change from boost is Soylent. I cant remember the calorie count, but it is a very good meal replacement.

    I know I am kind of rambling... but hope some of these ideas help, or at least give you a variety. It is hard to get excited for a meal that is same as the last one!

    Split pea soup and baked beans with honey are great for calories..

    The flaxseed and hemo hearts dont change the taste all that much..just a way to sneak another 100 calories in. I had never ventured into that type of food either. My daughter in law is super healthy, and introduced me ( young ones, ya know!)

    Almond butter or cashew butter is just another alternative to peanut butter. Change up the taste a bit.

    I have a long list if food allergies, no dairy, no cheese, no chocolate, so finding calories was really tough for me. Example, geek yogurt can be up to 270 cal, my non dairy yogurt is 60 calories. So, when my husband was going thru his treatment it was actually fun for me to keep finding new things to make for him. Cheese is another good source of calories, melt it and add it to soup, potatoes.

    Take care Russ. Maybe sit down and try to enjoy a slice of pumpkin pie with whipped cream!

    Also Here Are A Few More Postings For Weight Gain From The Forum

    Flyinhigh says:

    High calorie

    I use a powdered mix from GNC called 1340. If you followed their mixing instructions and used 4 large scoops with water and you supposedly get 1340 calories. I mix it half or third strength with 12 oz. of milk and figure I get 500-600 calories, plus a lot of protein. You can try this and if you don't like it or can't tolerate it GNC will take it back and refund your money. It comes in vanilla, chocolate or strawberry(my favorite).

    Grandmax4 says:


    I used a drink called Scandishake, bought it through Amazon. It's really good, can't remember the calorie and protein, I made it with crushed ice and milk in a blender, delicious

    Drivingdaisy says:


    Only drank Orgain, organic and small amount of natural sugar. Decided no more chemicals in My body. I just poured it in My feeding tube. I still drink it but the plant based. Became lactose intolerant. Good stuff. I'm more of a naturalists but to each their own. Going on 4 yrs NED, so did something right.

    Suzj says:

    if you want to mix it up..

    If you get the urge to mix it up, go with a high Protein Boost, mixed with a carnation instant breakfast, and a few scoops of Ice Cream - that'll up your calories

    Here's my radiologist's recipe. You can change the flavors by finding a substitute for peanut butter, using a different fruit, or a flavored yogurt. These are mixed by my better half in a Vitamix machine.

    1 cup ice cream

    1 cup greek (or any full-fat) yogurt

    Pack of Carnation instant breakfast

    1/3 cup peanut butter

    1 banana

    Milk to thin to the right consistency

    In Closing:

    I too and most folks on here had trouble swallowing and getting some foods down but it will come just be patient but for now eat what goes down easiest with a high calorie count. You may have to add liquid as you eat whatever you prefer. Try donuts and coffee. Eat in small bites and be patient. With my 2 cancers and 2 radiations to this day, I am thankful I can still eat but it is just a slower process. but in your case, it will probably come back completely. get with your speech therapist and do your swallowing exercises. I assume you have had contact with a speech therapist on this journey because most of us have it is standard procedure in this Head & Neck cancer game. if not contact your doc and get one assigned to you.

    Lastly I highly recommend that you Do Not have your PEG removed until you can have a stable weight or have some slight gain in weight going on but it is your choice. I know after my first cancer they would not remove my PEG tube until I could maintain a stable weight for 2 weeks.

    Be patient and Eat, Eat, Eat.

    I hope some of this rambling helps you in some way-Wishing You The Best-Take Care-God Bless-Russ

  • BertChen
    BertChen Member Posts: 20 Member

    Good gouge Russ, thanks!

  • olechiefsfan60
    olechiefsfan60 Member Posts: 1 *

    My husband just finished 35 rads & is having the exact same reaction. Apparently, it is not that common. Most people I guess have no taste. The comments about chugging this or that do not work with this particular side effect. He can get in literally about 2 small swallows. Any more than that and the vomiting begins. Then, he can't even look at food, smell it or even think about it for hours. He does not have a feeding tube. Doctors don't seem worried & in fact said they don't care if he eats, as long as he stays hydrated. He didn't lose any weight until the last 2 weeks. He is down to 144 from 162. Any updates on your husband?

  • vhalphen
    vhalphen Member Posts: 2 Member

    I'm sorry your husband is struggling; it is so hard to be the spouse. It is overwhelming, isn't it? Let your husband know it gets better; it just takes time. My hubby is doing a bit better, but still is struggling with the way food tastes. He completed radiation on May 22nd, and now can taste approx. 60-80% of his food. Soft bread is his favorite right now. Like the rolls from Texas roadhouse. His weight is stable now. He still has to do at least one high calorie shake for breakfast and a milk shake for evening snack. We just found out he has another tiny spot in the parotid gland, so now he will be having a parotidectomy in the next month or so. One day at a time.

  • wbcgaruss
    wbcgaruss Member Posts: 2,274 Member

    Agreed, vhalpen, one day at a time one thing at a time it is a slow process but by and by you will both get there and I say that for olechief also. This recovery is measured in weeks and months so be patient and you will look back in 6-8 months and be in a completely different place, a better place. Trust in God, and Pray a Lot.

    Wishing You The Best

    Take Care, God Bless


  • stickmanfob
    stickmanfob Member Posts: 30 Member

    Maybe try something out of the box. Has he tried Miracle Berries?

  • wbcgaruss
    wbcgaruss Member Posts: 2,274 Member

    stickman, not sure about your reference to Miracle Berries, I don't think I am familiar with them, can you elaborate?

    Take Care, God Bless


  • stickmanfob
    stickmanfob Member Posts: 30 Member

    Just type in Miracle Berries on Google and you can buy from Amazon. Not cheap but it works. They are also running clinical trials on this in various hospitals as well. Totally harmless to the body as well since it’s a natural berry.

  • wbcgaruss
    wbcgaruss Member Posts: 2,274 Member

    OK, I found them, never heard of them before.

    So the idea for H&N folks to eat them is to possibly help improve our taste. And it looks like it has health benefits also.

    Take Care, God Bless