Coping with cancer is horrible. As a result, patients receiving cancer treatment will sometimes feel compelled to dismiss cancer treatment side effects, like hearing loss, as insignificant. But it’s essential to keep in mind that, for a great many cancer patients, there is life after your disease. And you want that life to be as meaningful and prosperous as possible.
Speaking with your healthcare team about controlling and reducing side effects is so significant for this reason. By discussing possible hearing loss, tinnitus, or balance problems that may arise from chemotherapy, for instance, you’ll be more ready for what comes next, and be in a better position to completely enjoy life after cancer.
Available cancer treatments
In the past 20 years, substantial advancements in cancer treatment have been made. The development of certain cancers can even be prevented with vaccines. But generally, doctors will use one or more of three different ways to fight this disease: radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery.
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 all cancer treatments cause hearing and balance issues? Normally, these side effects only accompany chemotherapy, but each patient is different.
What is chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy is a mixture of treatments that use strong chemicals to destroy cancer cells. For a wide array of cancers, chemotherapy is the primary course of treatment because of its extremely successful track record. But because these chemicals are so strong, chemotherapy can create some uncomfortable side effects. Those side effects can include:
- Sores in the mouth
- Hair loss
- Loss of hearing
- Tiredness and fatigue
Side effects of chemotherapy tend to differ from person to person. The particular mix of chemicals also has a considerable impact on the specific side effects. Most individuals are fairly well aware of some of these symptoms, like hair loss for example. But that isn’t always the case with chemotherapy-caused hearing loss.
Does chemo cause hearing loss?
Loss of hearing is not one of the more well known side effects of chemotherapy. But the truth is that chemotherapy can and does cause hearing loss. Is hearing loss from chemo permanent? In many cases, yes.
So, what type of chemotherapy often comes with long-term hearing loss? Platinum-based chemical protocols (also called cisplatin-based chemotherapy) are more commonly responsible for hearing loss side effects. This type of therapy can be used on various kinds 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 tiny delicate stereocilia in the ears, but the exact cause-and-effect relationship is still not clear. Over time, this can trigger hearing loss, and that hearing loss is often permanent.
Hearing loss is something you want to keep your eye on, even when you’re battling cancer
When you’re battling cancer, hearing loss may not seem like your biggest concern. But there are considerable reasons why your hearing health is important, even while you’re battling cancer:
- Hearing loss has been known to lead to social isolation. This can aggravate many different conditions. In other words, receiving the correct treatment (or even buying the right groceries) can become harder when you are feeling socially isolated.
- Tinnitus and balance issues can also be the result of chemo-related hearing loss. So, now you’re thinking: wait, does chemotherapy cause tinnitus too? Well, regrettably, the answer is yes. Tinnitus is often associated with balance issues which can also be a problem. You don’t want to fall when you’re recovering from your chemotherapy treatment!
- Hearing loss can negatively impact your mental health, particularly if that hearing loss is neglected. Untreated hearing loss is closely related to 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.
You’ll want to talk to your care team about minimizing other health concerns while you’re fighting cancer.
What’s the solution?
When you’re battling cancer, your life becomes never-ending doctor’s appointments. But it’s important 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 comprehensive picture of your needs, your health history, and what your hearing treatment should be.
- It will be easier to receive prompt treatment when you experience the signs or symptoms of hearing loss.
- Establish a hearing baseline. This will make it considerably easier to detect hearing loss in the future.
So, can hearing loss as a result of chemo be reversed? Regardless of the cause, sensorineural hearing loss can’t be cured, sadly. 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 could mean basic monitoring or it might include a pair of hearing aids.
It should be mentioned, too, that most chemotherapy-caused hearing loss often affects the higher-range of hearing frequencies. It may not even have any effect on your day-to-day hearing.
Caring for your hearing is important
Paying attention to your hearing is essential. Discuss any concerns you might have about how chemotherapy might impact your hearing with 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 more rapid treatment.
Hearing loss can be caused by chemotherapy. But with the right plan, and a little assistance from your hearing specialist, you’ll be able to get effective treatments that keep you hearing better longer.