Coping with cancer is awful. Because of this, patients getting cancer treatment will in some cases feel compelled to dismiss cancer treatment side effects, like 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, obviously, you want a really full and happy life!
Talking to your healthcare team about controlling and reducing side effects is so significant because of this. By discussing possible hearing loss, tinnitus, or balance issues that may develop from chemotherapy, for example, you’ll be more ready for what happens next, and be in a better position to completely enjoy life after cancer.
Cancer treatment options
Cancer treatment has progressed substantially in the past couple of decades. The development of some cancers can even be avoided with vaccines. But generally, doctors will use one or more of three different ways to combat this disease: radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery.
Each treatment method has its own distinctive strengths and drawbacks, and none of them are mutually exclusive. Your care team will use your diagnosis and prognosis to establish the best course of treatment.
Do hearing and balance issues come with all cancer treatments? Well, each patient is different, but in general, these side effects are restricted to chemotherapy.
What is chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy kills cancer cells with a combination of strong chemicals. 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 lead to some uncomfortable side effects. Those side effects can include:
- Hair loss (including your nose hairs)
- Hearing loss
- Mouth sores
- Fatigue and tiredness
Side effects of chemotherapy tend to differ from person to person. The particular combination of chemicals also has a considerable effect 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-caused hearing loss.
Does chemo bring about hearing loss?
Hearing loss isn’t the most prominent chemotherapy side effect. But hearing loss can be a real side effect of chemotherapy. Is chemo-induced hearing loss irreversible? The answer is frequently yes.
So, which chemotherapy often comes with long-term hearing loss? Generally speaking, hearing loss tends to be most prevalent with platinum-based chemical protocols (known as cisplatin-based chemotherapy). This type of therapy can be used on various forms of cancers but is most frequently 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 especially proficient at causing damage to the fragile hairs in your ear. Over time, this can trigger hearing loss, and that hearing loss tends to be permanent.
Even if you’re battling cancer, you still need to pay attention to hearing loss
Hearing loss may not seem like that much of a concern when you’re fighting cancer. But even when you’re coping with cancer, there are significant reasons why your hearing health is relevant:
- Tinnitus and balance problems can also be the result of chemo-related hearing loss. So, now you’re thinking: hold on, does chemotherapy cause tinnitus too? Well, regrettably, the answer is yes. This tinnitus and loss of balance can be a problem, too. When you’re recouping from chemotherapy, the last thing you need is to have a fall.
- Hearing loss can negatively impact your mental health, particularly if that hearing loss is neglected. Untreated hearing loss is closely associated with increases in depression and anxiety. Battling cancer can, similarly, increase depression and anxiety, so you don’t want to make matters worse.
- Social isolation is often the outcome of hearing loss. Lots of different conditions can be exacerbated by this. If you’re feeling isolated socially, it can become challenging to do daily activities, especially getting appropriate treatment.
Reducing other health issues while you’re fighting cancer will 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 battling cancer. But it’s worthwhile to add one more appointment to your list: schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist.
Going to a hearing specialist will help you do a number of things:
- If you do detect hearing loss, it will be easier to get fast treatment.
- Become a patient of a hearing specialist. Your hearing specialist will have a more comprehensive knowledge of the state of your hearing and its needs, if you do have hearing loss.
- Establish a hearing baseline. This will make it considerably easier to detect hearing loss in the future.
So if you get hearing loss from chemo, can it be reversed? Sadly, sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible, no matter the cause. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a treatment. Your hearing specialist will be capable of helping you address and manage your hearing loss. This could mean basic monitoring or it may include a set of hearing aids.
It’s mostly frequencies in the higher range that go when your hearing loss is triggered by chemo. It might not necessarily have any effect on your day-to-day hearing.
Caring for your hearing is important
It’s essential to take care of your hearing health. If you’re worried about how chemotherapy might affect your hearing, talk to your care team. You might 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 right plan, and a little help from your hearing specialist, you’ll be able to find effective treatments that keep you hearing better longer.