Coping with cancer is awful. Because of this, patients receiving cancer treatment will sometimes feel compelled to dismiss cancer treatment side effects, including hearing loss, as insignificant. 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!
Talking to your healthcare team about managing and minimizing side effects is so significant for this reason. By discussing potential hearing loss, tinnitus, or balance issues that might develop from chemotherapy, for example, you’ll be more ready for what comes next, and be in a better position to completely enjoy life after cancer.
Cancer treatment options
Cancer treatment has advanced considerably in the past 20 years. There are even some vaccines that can stop the development of certain cancers in the first place! But, broadly speaking, there are still three standard ways that doctors will combat this serious disease: surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.
Each treatment method has its own unique strengths and drawbacks, and none of them are mutually exclusive. Your care team will use your diagnosis and prognosis to determine the best course of treatment.
Do all cancer treatments cause hearing and balance issues? Well, every patient is different, but generally, these side effects are restricted to chemotherapy.
What is chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy destroys cancer cells with a combination of strong chemicals. For a wide variety 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 create some unpleasant side effects. Here are a few of these side effects:
- Loss of hearing
- Fatigue and tiredness
- Mouth sores
- Hair loss
Side effects of chemotherapy often differ from person to person. Side effects may also change according to the particular mix of chemicals used. Most people are pretty well aware of some of these symptoms, like hair loss for instance. But that’s not necessarily the case with chemotherapy-induced hearing loss.
Does chemo produce hearing loss?
Loss of hearing isn’t one of the better known side effects of chemotherapy. But hearing loss can be a real side effect of chemotherapy. Is hearing loss from chemo permanent? The answer is often yes.
So is there a specific type of chemo that is more likely to cause 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 frequently used to treat head, neck, and gynecological cancers.
Scientists think that platinum-based chemotherapy chemicals attack and damage the little delicate stereocilia in the ears, but the exact cause-and-effect relationship is still unclear. This can trigger hearing loss that is often irreversible.
Hearing loss is something you want to keep your eye on, even when you’re fighting cancer
Hearing loss might not seem like that much of a concern when you’re combating cancer. But there are substantial reasons why your hearing health is important, even while you’re battling cancer:
- Social isolation is frequently the outcome of hearing loss. This can aggravate lots of different conditions. In other words, getting the appropriate treatment (or even purchasing the right groceries) can become more difficult when you’re feeling socially separated.
- Chemotherapy-caused hearing loss can also lead to balance problems and tinnitus. So can tinnitus also be triggered by chemotherapy? Unfortunately, yes. This tinnitus and loss of balance can be a problem, too. You don’t want to fall when you’re recovering from your chemotherapy treatment!
- Hearing loss can negatively affect your mental health, particularly if that hearing loss is neglected. Anxiety and depression are closely connected to neglected hearing loss. Someone who is fighting cancer already has a heavy weight on their shoulders and the last thing they need is added anxiety and depression.
Reducing 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?
You’re at the doctor’s constantly when you’re fighting cancer. But it’s worthwhile to add one more appointment to your list: make an appointment with a hearing specialist.
Here are a number of things that visiting a hearing specialist will help with:
- Become a patient of a hearing specialist. If you experience hearing loss, your hearing specialist will have a more complete understanding of your needs, your health history, and what your hearing treatment should be.
- Set a hearing baseline. This will make it significantly easier to recognize hearing loss in the future.
- If you do notice hearing loss, it will be easier to get fast treatment.
So, can hearing loss from chemo be reversed? Regardless of the cause, sensorineural hearing loss can’t be cured, sadly. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be treated. Your hearing loss can be treated and managed with the assistance of your hearing specialist. This could mean basic monitoring or it might include a pair of hearing aids.
It should be noted, too, that most chemotherapy-caused hearing loss often affects the higher-range of hearing frequencies. It might not necessarily have any impact 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 impact your hearing, consult your care team. Your treatment may 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 help from your hearing specialist, you’ll be able to find effective treatments that keep you hearing better longer.