Coping with cancer is horrible. Patients have to go through a very difficult time and some of the side effects of chemotherapy are frequently disregarded. But for a large number of cancer survivors, there is a life after cancer and that’s an important thing to remember. And you want that life to be as meaningful and prosperous as possible.
Talking to your healthcare team about managing and reducing side effects is so important because of this. By talking about potential hearing loss, tinnitus, or balance problems that may develop from chemotherapy, for example, you’ll be better prepared for what comes next, and be in a better position to completely enjoy life after cancer.
Available cancer treatments
Cancer treatment has progressed substantially in the past couple of decades. The development of some cancers can even be avoided with vaccines. But, broadly speaking, there are still three typical ways that doctors will combat this serious disease: surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.
There are unique drawbacks and strengths to each of these, and sometimes, they’re used in tandem. The best treatment course will be determined by your diagnosis, your prognosis, and your care team.
Do hearing and balance issues come with all cancer treatments? Well, each patient is different, but generally, these side effects are restricted to chemotherapy.
What is chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy destroys cancer cells with a combination of strong chemicals. Because of its very successful track record, chemotherapy is often the primary treatment choice for a wide range of cancers. But because these chemicals are so strong, chemotherapy can cause some unpleasant side effects. Here are several of these side effects:
- Mouth sores
- Tiredness and fatigue
- Hair loss (including your nose hairs)
- Hearing loss
Side effects of chemotherapy tend to vary from person to person. Side effects may also change according to the particular mix of chemicals used. Some of these side effects tend to be pretty visible and well known (hair loss, for example). But not so many people are aware of chemotherapy related hearing loss.
Can hearing loss be brought about by chemotherapy?
Loss of hearing isn’t one of the more well known side effects of chemotherapy. But hearing loss can be an actual side effect of chemotherapy. Is hearing loss from chemo permanent? In many cases, yes.
So is there a specific type of chemo that is more likely to result in hearing loss? In general, hearing loss tends to be most common with platinum-based chemical protocols (known as cisplatin-based chemotherapy). These kinds of therapies are most commonly used to treat head, neck, and gynecological cancers, but they can be used on other cancers too.
Scientists think that platinum-based chemotherapy chemicals attack and damage the little delicate stereocilia in the ears, but the exact cause-and-effect relationship is still unclear. Over time, this can cause hearing loss, and that hearing loss is often permanent.
Even if you’re battling cancer, you still need to pay attention to hearing loss
Hearing loss may not seem like that much of an issue when you’re combating cancer. But there are significant reasons why your hearing health is relevant, even in the midst of battling cancer:
- Chemotherapy-caused hearing loss can also result in balance issues and tinnitus. So, now you’re thinking: wait, does chemotherapy cause tinnitus too? Sadly, yes. Tinnitus is often linked to balance problems which can also be a problem. When you’re recouping from chemotherapy, the last thing you need is to have a fall.
- Hearing loss, especially neglected hearing loss, can negatively affect your mental health. Anxiety and depression are closely connected to untreated hearing loss. Battling cancer can, similarly, increase depression and anxiety, so you don’t want to make matters worse.
- Social isolation is frequently the result of hearing loss. Lots of different conditions can be exacerbated by this. If you’re feeling isolated socially, it can become challenging to do daily activities, especially getting appropriate treatment.
Decreasing other health issues while you’re fighting cancer will likely be a priority, and something you’ll want to speak with your care team about.
What’s the solution?
You’re at the doctor’s constantly when you’re fighting cancer. But it’s worthwhile to add one more appointment to your list: make an appointment with a hearing specialist.
Here are a number of things that seeing a hearing specialist will help with:
- Establish a hearing baseline. Then, if you experience hearing loss in the future, it will be easier to identify.
- Become a patient of a hearing specialist. Your hearing specialist will have a more comprehensive understanding of the state of your hearing and its needs, if you do have hearing loss.
- If you do experience hearing loss, it will be easier to get fast treatment.
So, can hearing loss as a result of chemo be reversed? Unfortunately, sensorineural hearing loss is permanent, no matter the cause. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be treated. Your hearing specialist will be able to help you address and manage your hearing loss. This could mean basic monitoring or it might include a pair of hearing aids.
It should be noted, too, that most chemotherapy-caused hearing loss normally affects the higher-range of hearing frequencies. Your day-to-day hearing might not even really be impacted.
Your hearing health is important
Paying attention to your hearing is crucial. Discuss any worries you may have about how chemotherapy could affect your hearing with your care team. Your treatment might not be able to be altered but at least you’ll be better able to keep an eye on your symptoms and to get faster treatment.
Hearing loss can be caused by chemotherapy. But if you consult your hearing specialist, they will help you make a plan that will help you stay in front of the symptoms.