Tufts University Sensory and Science Center (TUSSC)


200 Boston Avenue

Suite G700

Medford, MA 02155



Breast Cancer Study

A Study to Improve the Breast Cancer Patient's Experience with Food

Patients undergoing cancer treatment often experience changes in their sense of smell and taste. Some patients experience total or partial loss of their sensory abilities, while others experience heightened sensations. Changes in sensory abilities can cause cancer patients to eat less, lose weight, and become malnourished, which has been associated with poorer prognosis, increased risk of recurrence, and overall mortality.
Advice offered by the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute include eating cold foods and sucking on ice to numb taste buds, drinking mint tea or ginger ale to mask off-flavors, and eating with plastic utensils to minimize metallic flavors. However, these suggestions do not address the core problem, which is: what do these patients like, what will they eat, and is it nutritious? 

healthy cooking

The Tufts University Sensory and Science Center (TUSSC) will embark on a new study to improve the quality of life for cancer patients.

The aim of this study is to work with sensory experts, skilled culinary chefs, and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, to design whole-food, plant-based recipes for breast cancer patients that have modified sensory abilities. The goal is to design nutritious meals patients will like, are willing to eat, and can prepare for themselves...

TUSSC and its partners are highly committed to assess the effectiveness of a whole foods, plant-based (WFPB) diet to improve breast cancer outcomes. WFPB diets are nutrient-dense and fiber-rich, support immune function and detoxification, and have anti-cancer properties. Plant-based foods also have the potential to decrease oxidative stress and repair damaged DNA, without the negative side effects on normal cells, thereby promoting healing.

The TUSSC Sensory Practice will learn what sensory attributes breast cancer patients like and dislike. An internal, trained descriptive sensory analysis panel will help accomplish this task by applying standard methods to assess food products. The panel will then work with nutritionists and chefs to ensure that the final recommended menu items are prepared based on these attributes.

plant based foods

The TUSSC Clinical Trial Practice has experience conducting diet-based studies and plans to assess the effectiveness of the diet based on participant responses to the Functional Assessment of Chronic Illness Therapy - Spiritual Well-Being measurement system. The questionnaire measures the quality of life along the physical, social/family, emotional, and functional well-being domains. Blood samples will be collected and analyzed to evaluate adherence to dietary guidelines and the diet's effect on biomarkers associated with breast cancer prognosis. Impact of the diet on quality of life will also be evaluated by responses to the questionnaire.

Findings from this research will be transitioned into practice by the Academy of Nutritionists and Dietetics, who will organize a session at the Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo, the academy's annual conference, which draws over 10,000 registered dietitian nutritionists and collaborating professionals. It will also be communicated through educational webinars (live and/or recorded) in collaboration with the academy's Center for Lifelong Learning and/or the academy's Oncology Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group (~2000 registered dietitian nutritionists whose practice is oncology). Findings will additionally be presented by the sensory and clinical trial teams at their respective conferences and on the TUSSC and academy websites.

If you would like to support this project, please click on the link at the top of the page.

If you are a foundation or a corporation with an interest in supporting this project, or otherwise partnering with TUSSC, please contact Brett Hitchner, Assistant Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations.