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Has lung cancer. Does not ear properly due to lack of taste. What can be done?

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General Surgeon
Practicing since : 1979
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Hi. My wife has lung cancer and is not eating much because can not taste food.
Posted Wed, 25 Sep 2013 in Lung and Chest disorders
Answered by Dr. M Y Shareef 54 minutes later
Brief Answer:
Reassurance and change in diet is important

Detailed Answer:
Hi XXXXX! Good morning. I am Dr Shareef, a general surgeon answering your query.

I am sure you must be undergoing a difficult period in taking care of your wife with lung cancer specially when she has lost her taste of food and not eating much. This query also shows your concern about her health.

The loss of taste in a any cancer patient is due to very many reasons :

1) She must be psychologically depressed due to the disease.
2) She might have received chemotherapy/radiotherapy during the course of her treatment, which affects normal cells also with the cancer cells.

Radiotherapy affects the nearby structures, the food pipe (esophagus ) being one of the closest along with the wind pipe ( trachea ) as well. Post radiation esophagitis and edema of the esophagus may cause swallowing problems in her due to which she may not be intending to eat. Also involvement of trachea causes some difficulty in breathing and if one can not breath well, then obviously he/she will lose interest in other functions too.

Due to all these factors, if I would have been your treating doctor, I would have tried to counsel and reassure her of the treatment, so that the depression factor is managed as a priority and if I become unsuccessful in that, I would not hesitate to involve a Psychiatrist colleague in her management.

Once this factor is addressed, then I would go for some clinical examination and may be a few investigations to see if there is any blockage in her food pipe which might be turning her off from the food. If there is any blockage, I would consult the concerned Oncologist/surgeon for some symptomatic relief for her.

There are some chemotherapeutic drugs which affect the appetite more than the others, so changing of drugs by discussing with the Oncologist may also help.

Due to chemotherapy and radiotherapy effects, the salivary glands might not function normally, and the mouth becomes dry. In that case sucking of some mint may be of help.

Some importance is also to be given to oral hygiene of your wife. It should be properly but gently cleaned and brushed routinely. This may also help her. If needed one can involve a oral hygienist in her management.

As regards the diet is concerned, if you have got facilities, changing the menu frequently may help her appetite and taste. The food should be soft, without any spiky projections, and so any fruit should also be made a paste without the skin of the fruit. Similarly, all the food can be made into a paste without making it too liquid. Instead of feeding her once, give space in between by dividing the food into small parts. Try to add more of protein in the diet as protein helps in cellular regeneration. If she can tolerate, one can add some spices or her favorite flavor to her diet. Avoid citrus juice or fruit as this can irritate the food pipe more by more acid secretion in the stomach. If you have got a dietician in your area, you can get more ideas on her diet to make her taste better.

I am sure her oncologist must have added some kind of proton pump inhibitor and probiotic to her drug regimen. Addition of zinc supplements also help at times and this can be discussed with the treating doctor.

Most important factor as I have already mentioned is to keep her re assured. As maximum time of her is spent with you, you have to take this responsibility more than even the psychiatrist who may visit to her for consultation only. She can be assured that the change in taste sensation post chemo/radiotherapy is temporary, and will be ok in due course and that she should take nutritious diet well to help regenerating the taste buds and other normal cells of her tongue and oral cavity.

I hope I have explained you most of the ways in which it can be managed and I am confident that you are doing a great job in helping your wife during the time she needs you a lot to boost her morale. If you have any other doubt or conern, please do not hesitate to ask. We are here to help you in your efforts.

Thank you for chosing healthcare magic to join in your fight for your wife. Please take care.
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