The bizarre range of idiosyncratic food cravings and aversions – for chocolate, ice cream, peanut butter, pickles, spaghetti, pizzas, whole lemons and the like – are usually considered unique to pregnancy, but a similar phenomenon may also be a useful premonitory sign of cancer.
Thirty years ago, Dr Thurstan Brewin of the Glasgow Institute of Oncology reported that one in four of his patients described how months before being diagnosed, they had inexplicably lost their appetite for a favoured food or drink: tea became “most unpleasant“, cheese “like chewing gum“, sausages became “leathery” and eggs “as if bad“. Many described becoming intolerant of alcohol.
Thus a 56-year-old woman who had enjoyed a glass of whisky before choir practice, because “it improved her singing”, noted how she had “gone right off alcohol” six months before being diagnosed with cervical cancer. For those with Hodgkin’s disease, drinking could induce a range of unpleasant sensations, including sweating, giddiness and abdominal pain.
And just as the craving and aversions in pregnancy vanish after the baby is born, so these cancer-induced taste distortions resolve following treatment.
More recently, retired oncologist Gareth Rees has suggested that a wider recognition of this interesting phenomenon “would facilitate earlier diagnosis“, thus increasing the chances of a favourable outcome. – The Daily Telegraph