There’s nothing that’s good about cancer. Patients have to go through a very hard time and some of the side effects of chemotherapy are frequently dismissed. But it’s critical to keep in mind that, for a great many cancer patients, there will be life after your disease. And, of course, you want a very full and happy life!
Speaking with your healthcare team about managing and minimizing side effects is so essential because of this. By talking about potential hearing loss, tinnitus, or balance problems that might develop from chemotherapy, for instance, you’ll be more ready for what comes next, and be in a better position to truly enjoy life after cancer.
Cancer treatment options
In the past couple of decades, significant advancements in cancer treatment have been made. There are even some vaccines that can stop the development of some cancers in the first place! But generally, doctors will use one or more of three different ways to battle this disease: radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery.
There are unique drawbacks and strengths to each of these, and in some cases, they’re used in tandem. The best treatment course will be guided by your diagnosis, your prognosis, and your care team.
Do all cancer treatments lead to hearing and balance issues? Well, every patient is different, but generally, these side effects are restricted to chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy – what is it?
Chemotherapy is a mix of treatments that utilize strong chemicals to kill cancer cells. For a wide variety of cancers, chemotherapy is the primary course of treatment because of its very successful track record. But chemotherapy can cause some very uncomfortable side effects because these chemicals are so powerful. Those side effects can include:
- Mouth sores
- Hearing loss
- Hair loss (including your nose hairs)
- Fatigue and tiredness
Side effects of chemotherapy often differ from person to person. The particular combination of chemicals also has a significant impact on the specific side effects. Some of these side effects are often fairly visible and well known (hair loss, for instance). But that isn’t always the case with chemotherapy-induced hearing loss.
Does chemo cause hearing loss?
Hearing loss is not the most prominent chemotherapy side effect. But hearing loss can be an actual side effect of chemotherapy. Is hearing loss from chemo permanent? In many cases, yes.
So is there a particular type of chemo that is more likely to result in hearing loss? Platinum-based chemical protocols (also known as cisplatin-based chemotherapy) are more commonly responsible for hearing loss side effects. These kinds of therapies are most commonly used to treat head, neck, and gynecological cancers, but they can be used for other cancers also.
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 trigger hearing loss, and that hearing loss is usually permanent.
Hearing loss is something you want to keep your eye on, even when you’re battling cancer
Hearing loss may not seem like that much of an issue when you’re combating cancer. But there are significant reasons why your hearing health is relevant, even in the midst of battling cancer:
- Hearing loss can negatively affect your mental health, especially if that hearing loss is neglected. Untreated hearing loss is closely associated with increases in depression and anxiety. Fighting cancer can, similarly, increase depression and anxiety, so you don’t want to add more fuel to that fire.
- Chemotherapy-caused hearing loss can also result in balance issues and tinnitus. So, now you’re thinking: hold on, does chemotherapy cause tinnitus too? Well, unfortunately, the answer is 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!
- Social isolation is frequently the outcome 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 are feeling socially separated.
You’ll want to speak with your care team about decreasing other health issues while you’re fighting cancer.
So what should you do?
You’re at the doctor’s constantly when you’re battling cancer. But it’s worthwhile to add one more appointment to your list: make an appointment with a hearing specialist.
Visiting a hearing specialist will help you do several things:
- Initiate a relationship with a hearing specialist. Your hearing specialist will have a more detailed understanding of the state of your hearing and its needs, if you do have hearing loss.
- Set a baseline for your hearing. Then, if you develop hearing loss in the future, it will be easier to identify.
- It will be easier to get fast treatment when you detect the signs or symptoms of hearing loss.
So if you develop hearing loss from chemo, can it be reversed? No matter the cause, sensorineural hearing loss can’t be cured, sadly. But there are treatment possibilities. Your hearing loss can be treated and managed with the help 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 caused by chemo. It might not even have any effect on your day-to-day hearing.
Your hearing health is important
It’s critical to pay attention to your hearing health. Talk over any worries you may have about how chemotherapy could impact your hearing with your care team. Your treatment might 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 with the right plan, and a little help from your hearing specialist, you’ll be able to get effective treatments that keep you hearing better longer.