Dealing with cancer is awful. Patients have to go through a really hard time and some of the side effects of chemotherapy are often disregarded. But it’s essential to remember that, for a lot of cancer patients, there will be life after your disease. And you want that life to be as meaningful and prosperous as possible.
This means it’s important to talk to your care team about minimizing and managing side effects caused by your treatment. By discussing potential hearing loss, tinnitus, or balance problems that may develop from chemotherapy, for example, you’ll be more ready for what comes next, and be in a better position to fully enjoy life after cancer.
Cancer treatment options
In the past couple of decades, substantial advancements in cancer treatment have been made. The development of certain cancers can even be avoided with vaccines. But, generally speaking, there are still three basic 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. Your care team will use your diagnosis and prognosis to determine the best course of treatment.
Do all cancer treatments cause hearing and balance problems? Usually, these side effects only accompany chemotherapy, but every patient is different.
What is chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy is a mixture 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 because these chemicals are so strong, chemotherapy can create some unpleasant side effects. Those side effects can include:
- Hair loss
- Hearing loss
- Tiredness and fatigue
- Sores in the mouth
Side effects of chemotherapy tend to vary from person to person. The particular combination of chemicals also has a considerable impact on the specific side effects. Some of these side effects are often pretty visible and well known (hair loss, for example). But not so many individuals are aware of chemotherapy related hearing loss.
Does chemo cause hearing loss?
Loss of hearing is not one of the better known side effects of chemotherapy. But hearing loss can be an actual side effect of chemotherapy. Is related hearing loss irreversible? In many cases, yes.
So, which chemotherapy often comes with long-term hearing loss? In general, hearing loss tends to be most common with platinum-based chemical protocols (known as cisplatin-based chemotherapy). This type of therapy can be used on numerous forms of cancers but is most frequently used to treat head, neck, and gynecological cancers.
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 not clear. This can trigger hearing loss that is frequently irreversible.
Hearing loss is something you want to keep your eye on, even when you’re fighting cancer
When you’re fighting cancer, hearing loss may not seem like your biggest concern. But there are significant reasons why your hearing health is relevant, even in the midst of battling cancer:
- Hearing loss, particularly neglected hearing loss, can negatively affect your mental health. Neglected hearing loss is closely associated with increases in depression and anxiety. Battling cancer can, similarly, increase anxiety and depression, so you don’t want to add more fuel to that fire.
- Chemotherapy-caused hearing loss can also lead to balance issues and tinnitus. So, now you’re thinking: wait, does chemotherapy cause tinnitus too? Unfortunately, yes. Tinnitus is frequently linked to balance problems which can also be an issue. You don’t want to fall when you’re recovering from your chemotherapy treatment!
- Hearing loss has been known to cause social isolation. Lots of different conditions can be exacerbated by this. In other words, getting the appropriate treatment (or even purchasing the right groceries) can become more difficult when you’re feeling socially isolated.
Reducing other health issues while you’re fighting cancer will likely be a priority, and something you’ll want to talk to your care team about.
What’s the solution?
When you’re fighting cancer, your life becomes never-ending doctor’s appointments. But don’t let that stop you from scheduling an appointment for a hearing exam.
Here are a number of things that visiting a hearing specialist will help with:
- Set a hearing baseline. Then, if you experience hearing loss in the future, it will be easier to detect.
- It will be easier to receive prompt treatment when you notice the signs or symptoms of hearing loss.
- Initiate a relationship with a hearing specialist. Your hearing specialist will have a more precise knowledge of the state of your hearing and its needs, if you do have hearing loss.
So if you experience hearing loss from chemo, can it be reversed? Sadly, sensorineural hearing loss is permanent, no matter the cause. But there are treatment options. 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 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 essential. If you’re worried about how chemotherapy may affect your hearing, consult your care team. Your treatment may 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.
Chemotherapy can trigger hearing loss. 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.