Dealing with cancer is terrible. Patients have to go through a very tough time and some of the side effects of chemotherapy are frequently disregarded. But it’s essential to remember that, for a great many cancer patients, there will be life after your disease. And you want that life to be as full and prosperous as possible.
This means it’s important to speak with your care team about minimizing and managing side effects caused by your treatment. By discussing possible hearing loss, tinnitus, or balance issues that might arise 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 significantly in the past 20 years. There are even some vaccines that can prevent the development of certain cancers in the first place! But in general, doctors will use one or more of three different ways to battle this disease: radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery.
There are distinctive drawbacks and strengths to each of these, and sometimes, they’re used together. Your care team will use your diagnosis and prognosis to determine the best course of treatment.
Do hearing and balance issues come with all cancer treatments? Usually, these side effects only accompany chemotherapy, but each patient is different.
Chemotherapy – what is it?
Chemotherapy destroys cancer cells with a blend of strong chemicals. For a wide variety of cancers, chemotherapy is the main course of treatment because of its very successful track record. But chemotherapy can create some really uncomfortable side effects because these chemicals are so strong. Those side effects can include:
- Hair loss (including your nose hairs)
- Loss of hearing
- Mouth sores
- Tiredness and fatigue
Side effects of chemotherapy often differ from person to person. Side effects might also change depending on the specific combination of chemicals used. Most people are pretty well aware of some of these symptoms, like hair loss for instance. But not so many individuals are aware of chemotherapy induced hearing loss.
Can hearing loss be caused by chemotherapy?
Hearing loss isn’t the most well recognized chemotherapy side effect. But hearing loss can be a real 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? Platinum-based chemical protocols (also called cisplatin-based chemotherapy) are more typically responsible for hearing loss side effects. These types of therapies are most commonly used to treat head, neck, and gynecological cancers, but they can be used on other cancers too.
Scientists believe that platinum-based chemotherapy chemicals attack and damage the little fragile stereocilia in the ears, but the precise cause-and-effect relationship is still not clear. Over time, this can cause hearing loss, and that hearing loss is usually permanent.
Hearing loss is something you want to keep your eye on, even when you’re battling cancer
Hearing loss may not seem like that much of an issue when you’re battling cancer. But there are considerable reasons why your hearing health is relevant, even in the midst of battling cancer:
- Tinnitus and balance issues can also be the result of chemo-associated hearing loss. So, now you’re thinking: wait, does chemotherapy cause tinnitus too? Well, unfortunately, the answer is yes. Tinnitus is frequently connected with balance issues which can also be an issue. When you’re recovering from chemotherapy, the last thing you need is to have a fall.
- Hearing loss, especially neglected hearing loss, can negatively impact your mental health. Neglected hearing loss is closely associated with increases in depression and anxiety. Battling cancer can, similarly, increase depression and anxiety, so you don’t want to make matters worse.
- Hearing loss has been known to result in social isolation. This can aggravate many different conditions. If you’re feeling isolated socially, it can become challenging to do everyday activities, especially getting appropriate treatment.
You’ll want to talk to your care team about reducing other health issues while you’re fighting cancer.
What’s the solution?
When you’re fighting cancer, your life becomes a laundry list of doctor’s appointments. But don’t let that stop you from setting up an appointment for a hearing exam.
Here are a number of things that seeing a hearing specialist will help with:
- Establish a relationship with a hearing professional. If you experience hearing loss, your hearing specialist will have a more extensive understanding of your needs, your health history, and what your hearing treatment can look like.
- Establish a baseline for your hearing. Then, if you experience hearing loss in the future, it will be easier to recognize.
- If you do notice hearing loss, it will be easier to obtain rapid treatment.
So if you develop hearing loss from chemo, can it be reversed? Unfortunately, sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible, regardless of the cause. But there are treatment options. Your hearing loss can be treated and managed with the help of your hearing specialist. You may require hearing aids or you may simply need your hearing to be tracked.
It should be noted, too, that most chemotherapy-caused hearing loss usually impacts the higher-range of hearing frequencies. It might not even have any impact on your day-to-day hearing.
Your hearing health is important
Taking good care of your hearing is essential. If you’re worried about how chemotherapy might impact your hearing, talk to your care team. Your treatment may not be able to change but at least you’ll be better able to keep an eye on your symptoms and to get more rapid treatment.
Hearing loss can be induced by chemotherapy. But with the right plan, and a little help from your hearing specialist, you’ll be able to get effective treatments that keep you hearing better longer.