There’s nothing that’s good about cancer. Patients have to go through a really tough time and some of the side effects of chemotherapy are often ignored. But it’s essential to remember 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!
Talking to your healthcare team about managing and reducing side effects is so important for this reason. You’ll be able to enjoy life after cancer more completely, for instance, if you discuss possible balance and hearing issues that could develop post chemotherapy, with your care team.
Cancer treatment options
Cancer treatment has progressed considerably in the past couple of decades. There are even some vaccines that can stop the development of certain cancers in the first place! But, generally speaking, there are still three typical ways that doctors will combat this serious disease: surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.
There are distinctive drawbacks and strengths to each of these, and sometimes, 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, each patient is different, but generally, these side effects are limited to chemotherapy.
What is chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy destroys cancer cells with a blend of strong chemicals. For a wide variety of cancers, chemotherapy is the main course of treatment because of its very successful track record. But chemotherapy can cause some very uncomfortable side effects because these chemicals are so strong. Those side effects can include:
- Sores in the mouth
- Tiredness and fatigue
- Hearing loss
- Hair loss (including your nose hairs)
Every patient responds to chemotherapy in their own way. Side effects might also change according to the particular mix of chemicals used. Some of these side effects tend to be pretty visible and well known (hair loss, for instance). But that isn’t 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 the truth is that chemotherapy can and does cause hearing loss. Is hearing loss from chemo permanent? In many instances, yes.
So, what type of chemotherapy frequently comes with long-term hearing loss? Platinum-based chemical protocols (also called cisplatin-based chemotherapy) are more commonly responsible for hearing loss side effects. These kinds of therapies are most often used to treat head, neck, and gynecological cancers, but they can be used for other cancers too.
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 not clear. Over time, this can trigger hearing loss, and that hearing loss is usually permanent.
Even if you’re fighting cancer, you still need to pay attention to hearing loss
When you’re fighting cancer, hearing loss might not seem like your most pressing concern. But even when you’re coping with cancer, there are significant reasons why your hearing health is important:
- Tinnitus and balance issues can also be the outcome of chemo-associated hearing loss. So, now you’re thinking: wait, does chemotherapy lead to tinnitus too? Well, unfortunately, the answer is yes. Tinnitus is frequently associated with balance problems which can also be an issue. You don’t want to fall when you’re recuperating from your chemotherapy treatment!
- Social isolation is frequently the result of hearing loss. Lots of different conditions can be exacerbated by this. In other words, receiving the appropriate treatment (or even buying the right groceries) can become more difficult when you’re feeling socially isolated.
- Hearing loss can negatively impact your mental health, particularly if that hearing loss is untreated. Neglected hearing loss is closely related to increases in depression and anxiety. Fighting cancer can, similarly, increase anxiety and depression, so you don’t want to make matters worse.
You’ll want to speak with your care team about reducing other health issues while you’re fighting cancer.
What’s the solution?
When you’re battling cancer, your life becomes never-ending doctor’s appointments. But it’s beneficial to add one more appointment to your list: make an appointment with a hearing specialist.
Seeing a hearing specialist will help you do several things:
- Become a patient of a hearing specialist. Your hearing specialist will have a more in depth knowledge of the state of your hearing and its needs, if you do have hearing loss.
- Set a baseline for your hearing. This will make it considerably easier to recognize hearing loss in the future.
- It will be easier to receive fast treatment when you notice the signs or symptoms of hearing loss.
So if you develop hearing loss from chemo, can it be reversed? Sadly, sensorineural hearing loss is permanent, no matter the cause. But there are treatment options. Your hearing specialist will be capable of helping you treat and manage your hearing loss. This could 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 due to chemo. Your day-to-day hearing may not even really be effected.
Your hearing health is important
It’s essential to pay attention to your hearing health. If you’re worried about how chemotherapy may 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 track your symptoms and treat them accordingly.
Chemotherapy can cause hearing loss. 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.