Dealing with cancer is awful. As a result, patients getting cancer treatment will in some cases feel compelled to dismiss cancer treatment side effects, like hearing loss, as trivial. But it’s important to keep in mind that, for a lot of cancer patients, there will be life after your disease. And, of course, you want a really full and happy life!
This means it’s important to talk to your care team about minimizing and managing side effects caused by your treatment. By talking about possible hearing loss, tinnitus, or balance issues that may arise from chemotherapy, for instance, you’ll be better prepared for what comes next, and be in a better position to truly enjoy life after cancer.
Cancer treatment options
Cancer treatment has progressed considerably in the past couple of decades. There are even some vaccines that can prevent the development of certain cancers in the first place! But, broadly speaking, there are still three standard ways that doctors will fight 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? Normally, these side effects only accompany chemotherapy, but every patient is different.
What is chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy is a mix of treatments that utilize strong chemicals to destroy cancer cells. For a wide array of cancers, chemotherapy is the primary course of treatment because of its very successful track record. But chemotherapy can bring on some really uncomfortable side effects because these chemicals are so strong. Those side effects can include:
- Tiredness and fatigue
- Loss of hearing
- 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 effect on the specific side effects. Most people are fairly 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 is not the most well known chemotherapy side effect. But hearing loss can be a real side effect of chemotherapy. Is related hearing loss irreversible? In many instances, yes.
So is there a specific type of chemo that is more likely to cause hearing loss? Platinum-based chemical protocols (also known as cisplatin-based chemotherapy) are more commonly responsible for hearing loss side effects. This type of therapy can be used on numerous kinds of cancers but is most frequently used to treat head, neck, and gynecological cancers.
Scientists aren’t really certain how the cause and effect works, but the basic thought is that platinum-based chemotherapy chemicals are especially adept at causing damage to the fragile hairs in your ear. Over time, this can cause hearing loss, and that hearing loss tends to be permanent.
Even if you’re fighting cancer, you should still pay attention to hearing loss
When you’re fighting cancer, hearing loss might not seem like your biggest concern. But even when you’re coping with cancer, there are substantial reasons why the health of your hearing is relevant:
- Hearing loss, particularly neglected hearing loss, can negatively impact your mental health. Anxiety and depression are closely associated with neglected hearing loss. Fighting cancer can, similarly, increase depression and anxiety, so you don’t want to add more fuel to that fire.
- Social isolation is frequently the outcome of hearing loss. Many different conditions can be exacerbated by this. In other words, obtaining the correct treatment (or even buying the right groceries) can become more difficult when you’re feeling socially separated.
- Tinnitus and balance problems can also be the result of chemo-related hearing loss. So can tinnitus also be triggered by chemotherapy? Well, regrettably, the answer is yes. This tinnitus and loss of balance can be an issue, too. You don’t want to fall down when you’re recovering from your chemotherapy treatment!
Decreasing other health concerns while you’re fighting cancer will 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 important to add one more appointment to your list: make an appointment with a hearing specialist.
Here are several 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.
- Establish a relationship with a hearing professional. 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 should be.
- It will be easier to receive fast treatment when you experience the signs or symptoms of hearing loss.
So, can hearing loss from chemo be reversed? Sadly, sensorineural hearing loss is permanent, no matter the cause. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be treated. Your hearing loss can be treated and managed with the assistance of your hearing specialist. This may mean basic monitoring or it might include a set of hearing aids.
It’s mostly frequencies in the higher register that go when your hearing loss is triggered by chemo. It might not necessarily have any effect on your day-to-day hearing.
Caring for your hearing is important
It’s critical to take care of your hearing health. If you have concerns about how chemotherapy may affect your hearing, talk to your care team. Your treatment might not be able to be altered but at least you’ll be better able to track your symptoms and to get more rapid treatment.
Chemotherapy can trigger hearing loss. But with the correct plan, and a little assistance from your hearing specialist, you’ll be able to get effective treatments that keep you hearing better longer.