There’s nothing that’s good about cancer. Because of this, patients getting cancer treatment will in some cases feel compelled to disregard cancer treatment side effects, like hearing loss, as insignificant. But for a great number of cancer survivors, there will be a life after cancer and that’s a pretty important thing to keep in mind. And, obviously, you want a really full and happy life!
Speaking with your healthcare team about managing and reducing side effects is so essential for this reason. By talking about possible hearing loss, tinnitus, or balance issues that may develop from chemotherapy, for example, 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 20 years. The development of some 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 distinctive drawbacks and strengths to each of these, and sometimes, they’re used together. Your care team will use your diagnosis and prognosis to establish the best course of treatment.
Do hearing and balance problems come with all cancer treatments? Well, every patient is different, but generally, these side effects are limited to chemotherapy.
What is chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy is a combination of treatments that utilize strong chemicals to kill cancer cells. Because of its highly successful track record, chemotherapy is frequently the main treatment choice for a wide variety of cancers. But chemotherapy can create some really uncomfortable side effects because these chemicals are so powerful. Those side effects can include:
- Hair loss
- Fatigue and tiredness
- Mouth sores
- Loss of hearing
Side effects of chemotherapy often vary from person to person. Side effects might also vary according to the particular combination of chemicals used. Most people are pretty well aware of some of these symptoms, like hair loss for example. But that’s not necessarily the case with chemotherapy-induced hearing loss.
Can hearing loss be brought about by chemotherapy?
Hearing loss isn’t the most well recognized chemotherapy side effect. But the truth is that chemotherapy can and does cause hearing loss. Is related hearing loss irreversible? The answer is often yes.
So is there a specific type of chemo that is more likely to result in hearing loss? Generally speaking, hearing loss tends to be most prevalent with platinum-based chemical protocols (called cisplatin-based chemotherapy). 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 believe 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. This can trigger hearing loss that is frequently irreversible.
Even if you’re battling cancer, you still need to keep your eye on hearing loss
When you’re fighting cancer, hearing loss might not feel like your most pressing concern. But even when you’re dealing with cancer, there are significant reasons why your hearing health is relevant:
- Hearing loss, particularly neglected hearing loss, can negatively impact your mental health. Neglected hearing loss is closely related to increases in depression and anxiety. Somebody who is fighting cancer already has a heavy weight on their shoulders and the last thing they need is more anxiety and depression.
- Tinnitus and balance problems can also be the outcome of chemo-related hearing loss. So, now you’re thinking: wait, does chemotherapy cause tinnitus too? Regrettably, yes. This tinnitus and loss of balance can be a problem, too. You don’t want to fall when you’re recuperating from your chemotherapy treatment!
- Hearing loss has been known to cause social isolation. Lots of different conditions can be aggravated by this. In other words, obtaining the appropriate treatment (or even buying the right groceries) can become more difficult when you’re feeling socially separated.
Minimizing other health concerns while you’re fighting cancer will most likely be a priority, and something you’ll want to speak with your care team about.
What’s the solution?
When you’re fighting cancer, your life becomes never-ending doctor’s appointments. But don’t allow that to stop you from scheduling an appointment for a hearing exam.
Seeing a hearing specialist will help you do a number of things:
- It will be easier to obtain prompt treatment when you experience the signs or symptoms of hearing loss.
- Establish a relationship with a hearing specialist. If you detect hearing loss, your hearing specialist will have a more in depth picture of your needs, your health history, and what your hearing treatment should be.
- Set a baseline for your hearing. Then, if you develop hearing loss in the future, it will be easier to recognize.
So, can hearing loss from chemo be reversed? Regardless of the cause, sensorineural hearing loss can’t be cured, unfortunately. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be treated. Your hearing specialist will be able to help you address and manage your hearing loss. This may mean simple monitoring or it might include a pair of hearing aids.
It should be mentioned, too, that the majority of chemotherapy-caused hearing loss usually impacts the higher-range of hearing frequencies. Your day-to-day hearing may not even really be impacted.
Your hearing health is important
It’s critical to pay attention to your hearing health. If you have concerns about how chemotherapy may impact your hearing, consult 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.
Hearing loss can be induced by chemotherapy. But with the right plan, and a little assistance from your hearing specialist, you’ll be able to find effective treatments that keep you hearing better longer.