Dealing with cancer is awful. As a result, patients receiving cancer treatment will in some cases feel compelled to dismiss cancer treatment side effects, such as hearing loss, as trivial. But for a large number of cancer survivors, there is a life after cancer and that’s a pretty important thing to keep in mind. And, obviously, you want a very full and happy life!
This means it’s important to talk to your care team about decreasing and managing side effects caused by your treatment. By discussing possible hearing loss, tinnitus, or balance problems that might arise from chemotherapy, for instance, you’ll be more ready for what happens next, and be in a better position to truly enjoy life after cancer.
Available cancer treatments
Cancer treatment has progressed considerably in the past couple of decades. There are even some vaccines that can prevent the development of some cancers in the first place! But in general, doctors will use one or more of three different ways to fight this disease: radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery.
Each treatment option has its own distinctive strengths and drawbacks, and none of them are mutually exclusive. The best treatment course will be guided by your diagnosis, your prognosis, and your care team.
Do hearing and balance problems come with all cancer treatments? Usually, these side effects only accompany chemotherapy, but each patient is different.
Chemotherapy – what is it?
Chemotherapy is a mixture of treatments that use strong chemicals to kill cancer cells. Because of its highly successful track record, chemotherapy is frequently the leading treatment option for a wide array of cancers. But because these chemicals are so strong, chemotherapy can lead to some uncomfortable side effects. Here are several of these side effects:
- Mouth sores
- Hair loss
- Fatigue and tiredness
- Hearing loss
Every patient responds to chemotherapy in their own way. Side effects might also change according to the particular mix of chemicals used. Most individuals are pretty well aware of some of these symptoms, like hair loss for instance. But not so many individuals are aware of chemotherapy related hearing loss.
Does chemo produce hearing loss?
Hearing loss is not the most well known chemotherapy side effect. But hearing loss can be an actual side effect of chemotherapy. Is related hearing loss irreversible? In many instances, yes.
So is there a particular type of chemo that is more likely to cause hearing loss? Platinum-based chemical protocols (also called cisplatin-based chemotherapy) are more commonly 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 as well.
Scientists believe that platinum-based chemotherapy chemicals attack and damage the little fragile stereocilia in the ears, but the exact 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 pay attention to, even when you’re battling cancer
Hearing loss might not seem like that much of a worry when you’re battling cancer. But there are considerable reasons why your hearing health is relevant, even while you’re battling cancer:
- Social isolation is often the result of hearing loss. This can aggravate lots of different conditions. In other words, obtaining the appropriate treatment (or even purchasing the right groceries) can become more difficult when you’re feeling socially isolated.
- Chemotherapy-caused hearing loss can also result in balance problems and tinnitus. So, now you’re thinking: hold on, does chemotherapy cause tinnitus too? Well, unfortunately, the answer is yes. Tinnitus is often linked to balance problems which can also be a problem. You don’t want to fall down when you’re recovering from your chemotherapy treatment!
- Hearing loss can negatively impact your mental health, particularly if that hearing loss is untreated. Anxiety and depression are closely linked to untreated hearing loss. Someone who is fighting cancer already has a heavy weight on their shoulders and the last thing they need is more anxiety and depression.
Decreasing other health concerns while you’re fighting cancer will most likely be a priority, and something you’ll want to talk to your care team about.
What’s the solution?
You’re at the doctor’s constantly when you’re fighting cancer. But it’s beneficial to add one more appointment to your list: schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist.
Here are a number of things that visiting a hearing specialist will help with:
- It will be easier to get fast treatment when you notice the signs or symptoms of hearing loss.
- Begin a relationship with a hearing professional. Your hearing specialist will have a more in depth knowledge of the state of your hearing and its needs, if you do have hearing loss.
- Establish a hearing baseline. Then, if you experience hearing loss in the future, it will be easier to detect.
So, can hearing loss from chemo be reversed? Regardless of the cause, sensorineural hearing loss can’t be cured, sadly. But there are treatment options. Your hearing loss can be treated and managed with the assistance of your hearing specialist. You might need hearing aids or you might simply need your hearing to be monitored.
It should be mentioned, too, that most chemotherapy-caused hearing loss usually impacts the higher-range of hearing frequencies. It might not necessarily have any impact on your day-to-day hearing.
Your hearing health is important
Paying attention to your hearing is crucial. Discuss any concerns you may have about how chemotherapy could impact your hearing with your care team. You may not be able to change treatment options, but at least you’ll be able to closely monitor your symptoms and treat them appropriately.
Hearing loss can be induced by chemotherapy. But with the correct plan, and a little help from your hearing specialist, you’ll be able to get effective treatments that keep you hearing better longer.