Dealing with cancer is awful. Because of this, patients getting cancer treatment will in some cases feel compelled to dismiss cancer treatment side effects, such as hearing loss, as insignificant. But for a large number of cancer survivors, there will be a life after cancer and that’s an important thing to keep in mind. And you want that life to be as full and prosperous as possible.
Talking to your healthcare team about controlling and reducing side effects is so important for this reason. By discussing potential hearing loss, tinnitus, or balance issues that may arise from chemotherapy, for example, you’ll be better prepared for what comes next, and be in a better position to fully enjoy life after cancer.
Available cancer treatments
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 certain cancers in the first place! But in general, 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 together. Your care team will use your diagnosis and prognosis to determine the best course of treatment.
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 destroys cancer cells with a blend of strong chemicals. Because of its very successful track record, chemotherapy is often the primary treatment option for a wide range of cancers. But chemotherapy can create some very uncomfortable side effects because these chemicals are so strong. Here are a few of these side effects:
- Hair loss (including your nose hairs)
- Loss of hearing
- Sores in the mouth
- Fatigue and tiredness
Every patient reacts to chemotherapy in their own way. Side effects may also change based on the particular combination of chemicals used. Some of these side effects tend to be fairly visible and well known (hair loss, for instance). But that’s not always the case with chemotherapy-induced hearing loss.
Can hearing loss be caused by chemotherapy?
Hearing loss isn’t the most well recognized chemotherapy side effect. But hearing loss can be a real side effect of chemotherapy. Is chemo-induced hearing loss irreversible? In many cases, yes.
So, what type of chemotherapy frequently comes with long-term hearing loss? Platinum-based chemical protocols (also known as cisplatin-based chemotherapy) are more typically responsible for hearing loss side effects. This type of therapy can be used on numerous kinds of cancers but is most often used to treat head, neck, and gynecological cancers.
Scientists aren’t exactly certain how the cause and effect works, but the general sense is that platinum-based chemotherapy chemicals are particularly adept at causing harm to the fragile hairs in your ear. Over time, this can trigger hearing loss, and that hearing loss tends to be 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 might not seem like your biggest concern. But there are significant reasons why your hearing health is important, even while you’re battling cancer:
- Hearing loss has been known to cause social isolation. This can aggravate many different conditions. In other words, receiving the appropriate treatment (or even buying the right groceries) can become more difficult when you are feeling socially separated.
- 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. Tinnitus is often connected with balance issues which can also be a problem. When you’re recovering from chemotherapy, the last thing you need is to take a fall.
- Hearing loss, particularly neglected hearing loss, can negatively impact your mental health. Anxiety and depression are closely associated with neglected hearing loss. Somebody who is battling cancer already has a heavy weight on their shoulders and the last thing they need is extra anxiety and depression.
Decreasing other health issues while you’re fighting cancer will likely be a priority, and something you’ll want to speak with your care team about.
So what should you do?
When you’re battling cancer, your life becomes a laundry list of doctor’s appointments. But it’s important to add one more appointment to your list: schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist.
Visiting a hearing specialist will help you do a number of things:
- Begin a relationship with a hearing professional. Your hearing specialist will have a more precise knowledge of the state of your hearing and its needs, if you do have hearing loss.
- It will be easier to receive fast treatment when you detect the signs or symptoms of hearing loss.
- Establish a baseline for your hearing. This will make it significantly easier to identify hearing loss in the future.
So if you develop hearing loss from chemo, can it be reversed? Regardless of the cause, sensorineural hearing loss can’t be cured, sadly. But there are treatment solutions. Your hearing loss can be treated and managed with the help of your hearing specialist. This may mean simple monitoring or it may include a pair of hearing aids.
It’s mostly frequencies in the higher register that go when your hearing loss is triggered by chemo. It may not even have any impact on your day-to-day hearing.
Caring for your hearing is important
Taking good care of your hearing is crucial. Discuss any worries you might have about how chemotherapy may affect your hearing with your care team. You may not be able to alter your treatment options, but at least you’ll be able to closely track your symptoms and treat them accordingly.
Hearing loss can be caused by chemotherapy. But with the correct plan, and a little assistance from your hearing specialist, you’ll be able to get effective treatments that keep you hearing better longer.