Coping with cancer is terrible. Because of this, patients getting cancer treatment will in some cases feel compelled to disregard cancer treatment side effects, such as hearing loss, as insignificant. But for a large number of cancer survivors, there is a life after cancer and that’s an important thing to keep in mind. And, obviously, you want a very full and happy life!
Talking to your healthcare team about controlling and decreasing side effects is so essential for this reason. By talking about potential hearing loss, tinnitus, or balance issues that might arise from chemotherapy, for example, you’ll be more ready for what comes next, and be in a better position to truly enjoy life after cancer.
Cancer treatment options
In the past couple of decades, significant advancements in cancer treatment have been made. The development of certain cancers can even be prevented with vaccines. But generally, doctors will utilize one or more of three different ways to combat this disease: radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery.
There are unique drawbacks and strengths to each of these, and sometimes, they’re used together. The best treatment course will be determined by your diagnosis, your prognosis, and your care team.
Do all cancer treatments lead to hearing and balance issues? Normally, these side effects only accompany chemotherapy, but each patient is different.
Chemotherapy – what is it?
Chemotherapy destroys cancer cells with a combination of strong chemicals. Because of its extremely successful track record, chemotherapy is often the leading treatment option for a wide array of cancers. But chemotherapy can bring on some very uncomfortable side effects because these chemicals are so powerful. Those side effects can include:
- Tiredness and fatigue
- Hearing loss
- Sores in the mouth
- Hair loss
Side effects of chemotherapy have a tendency to vary from person to person. The particular mix of chemicals also has a substantial impact on the specific side effects. Some of these side effects tend to be pretty visible and well known (hair loss, for instance). But not so many individuals are aware of chemotherapy related hearing loss.
Can hearing loss be caused by chemotherapy?
Hearing loss is not the most prominent chemotherapy side effect. But the reality is that chemotherapy can and does cause hearing loss. Is hearing loss from chemo permanent? In many cases, yes.
So, what type of chemotherapy frequently comes with long-term hearing loss? Platinum-based chemical protocols (also known as cisplatin-based chemotherapy) are more typically responsible for hearing loss side effects. These kinds of therapies are most often utilized 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 tiny fragile stereocilia in the ears, but the precise cause-and-effect relationship is still unclear. This can trigger hearing loss that is often irreversible.
Hearing loss is something you want to pay attention to, even when you’re battling cancer
Hearing loss might not seem like that much of a worry when you’re fighting cancer. But there are significant reasons why your hearing health is important, even in the midst of battling cancer:
- Hearing loss has been known to result in social isolation. This can exacerbate lots of different conditions. If you’re feeling isolated socially, it can become challenging to do everyday activities, especially getting appropriate treatment.
- Hearing loss, particularly neglected hearing loss, can negatively affect your mental health. Untreated hearing loss is closely related to increases in depression and anxiety. Someone who is battling cancer already has a heavy weight on their shoulders and the last thing they need is extra anxiety and depression.
- Chemotherapy-caused hearing loss can also lead to balance problems and tinnitus. So, now you’re thinking: wait, does chemotherapy lead to tinnitus too? Regrettably, yes. This tinnitus and loss of balance can be an issue, too. You don’t want to fall down when you’re recuperating from your chemotherapy treatment!
Minimizing other health issues while you’re fighting cancer will most likely be a priority, and something you’ll want to speak with your care team about.
So what should you do?
When you’re fighting cancer, your life becomes a laundry list of doctor’s appointments. 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 visiting a hearing specialist will help with:
- Become a patient of a hearing specialist. If you experience hearing loss, your hearing specialist will have a more in depth understanding of your needs, your health history, and what your hearing treatment can look like.
- Establish a baseline for your hearing. This will make it substantially easier to recognize hearing loss in the future.
- It will be easier to obtain prompt treatment when you experience the signs or symptoms of hearing loss.
So if you develop hearing loss from chemo, can it be reversed? No matter the cause, sensorineural hearing loss has no cure, unfortunately. But there are treatment possibilities. Your hearing loss can be treated and managed with the assistance of your hearing specialist. This could mean basic monitoring or it may include a set of hearing aids.
It should be mentioned, too, that the majority of chemotherapy-caused hearing loss normally impacts the higher-range of hearing frequencies. Your day-to-day hearing might not even really be effected.
Caring for your hearing is important
Taking good care of your hearing is crucial. Talk over any concerns you might have about how chemotherapy might 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 induced by chemotherapy. But if you talk to your hearing specialist, they will help you develop a plan that will help you get in front of the symptoms.