There’s nothing that’s good about cancer. As a result, patients receiving cancer treatment will in some cases feel compelled to disregard cancer treatment side effects, such as hearing loss, as insignificant. But for a great number of cancer survivors, there will be a life after cancer and that’s an essential thing to keep in mind. And, obviously, you want a very full and happy life!
Speaking with your healthcare team about controlling and reducing side effects is so important because of this. You’ll be able to enjoy life after cancer more completely, for instance, if you discuss potential balance and hearing problems that could arise post chemotherapy, with your care team.
Cancer treatment options
In the past couple of decades, substantial advancements in cancer treatment have been made. There are even some vaccines that can prevent the development of certain cancers in the first place! But, generally speaking, there are still three typical ways that doctors will fight this serious disease: surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.
Each treatment option 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 lead to hearing and balance issues? Normally, these side effects only accompany chemotherapy, but every patient is different.
What is chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy kills cancer cells with a blend 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 cause some uncomfortable side effects. Here are several of these side effects:
- Hearing loss
- Fatigue and tiredness
- Sores in the mouth
- Hair loss (including your nose hairs)
Side effects of chemotherapy often differ from person to person. Side effects might also vary depending on the particular mix of chemicals used. Some of these side effects tend to be fairly visible and well known (hair loss, for instance). But not so many individuals are aware of chemotherapy induced hearing loss.
Does chemo produce hearing loss?
Hearing loss isn’t the most well known chemotherapy side effect. But hearing loss can be an actual side effect of chemotherapy. Is chemo-induced hearing loss irreversible? In many instances, yes.
So is there a particular type of chemo that is more likely to result in hearing loss? Platinum-based chemical protocols (also called cisplatin-based chemotherapy) are more commonly responsible for hearing loss side effects. These types of therapies are most often used to treat head, neck, and gynecological cancers, but they can be used on other cancers too.
Scientists believe that platinum-based chemotherapy chemicals attack and damage the little fragile stereocilia in the ears, but the precise cause-and-effect relationship is still not clear. This can trigger hearing loss that is frequently irreversible.
Hearing loss is something you want to pay attention to, even when you’re fighting cancer
When you’re battling cancer, hearing loss might not feel like your most pressing concern. But even when you’re coping with cancer, there are substantial reasons why the health of your hearing is important:
- Hearing loss has been known to result in social isolation. This can aggravate many different conditions. In other words, obtaining the correct treatment (or even purchasing the right groceries) can become more difficult when you’re feeling socially isolated.
- Tinnitus and balance problems can also be the result of chemo-related hearing loss. So, now you’re thinking: hold on, does chemotherapy lead to tinnitus too? Well, regrettably, the answer is yes. Tinnitus is often linked to balance problems which can also be a problem. You don’t want to fall when you’re recovering from your chemotherapy treatment!
- Hearing loss, especially neglected hearing loss, can negatively impact your mental health. Anxiety and depression are closely associated with neglected hearing loss. Somebody who is fighting cancer already has a heavy weight on their shoulders and the last thing they need is more anxiety and depression.
You’ll want to speak with your care team about decreasing other health concerns while you’re fighting cancer.
What’s the solution?
When you’re fighting cancer, your life becomes a laundry list of doctor’s appointments. But don’t allow that to stop you from setting up an appointment for a hearing exam.
Here are a number of things that visiting a hearing specialist will help with:
- Establish a baseline for your hearing. Then, if you develop hearing loss in the future, it will be easier to detect.
- Become a patient of a hearing specialist. Your hearing specialist will have a more comprehensive understanding 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 notice the signs or symptoms of hearing loss.
So, can hearing loss from chemo be reversed? Regardless of the cause, sensorineural hearing loss has no cure, unfortunately. But there are treatment solutions. Your hearing loss can be treated and managed with the help of your hearing specialist. This could mean basic monitoring or it might include a pair of hearing aids.
It’s mostly frequencies in the higher register that go when your hearing loss is due to chemo. It might not necessarily have any impact on your day-to-day hearing.
Your hearing health is important
It’s crucial to pay attention to your hearing health. Talk over any worries you may have about how chemotherapy may 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 track your symptoms and to get faster treatment.
Chemotherapy can cause hearing loss. But with the right plan, and a little assistance from your hearing specialist, you’ll be able to get effective treatments that keep you hearing better longer.