Coping with cancer is terrible. Because of this, patients receiving cancer treatment will in some cases feel compelled to disregard cancer treatment side effects, such as hearing loss, as trivial. But it’s essential to keep in mind that, for a great many cancer patients, there will be life after your disease. And you want that life to be as meaningful and prosperous as possible.
This means it’s important to speak with your care team about reducing and dealing with side effects caused by your treatment. By discussing potential hearing loss, tinnitus, or balance issues that might develop from chemotherapy, for instance, you’ll be more ready for what happens next, and be in a better position to completely enjoy life after cancer.
Available cancer treatments
Cancer treatment has advanced significantly in the past 20 years. There are even some vaccines that can prevent the development of certain cancers in the first place! But in general, doctors will use one or more of three different ways to combat this disease: radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery.
There are unique drawbacks and strengths to each of these, and sometimes, they’re used together. The best treatment course will be guided by your diagnosis, your prognosis, and your care team.
Do hearing and balance problems come with all cancer treatments? Well, each patient is different, but in general, these side effects are restricted to chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy – what is it?
Chemotherapy is a mixture of treatments that use strong chemicals to kill cancer cells. For a wide range of cancers, chemotherapy is the primary course of treatment because of its very successful track record. But because these chemicals are so strong, chemotherapy can lead to some uncomfortable side effects. Those side effects can include:
- Fatigue and tiredness
- Hair loss
- Mouth sores
- Hearing loss
Side effects of chemotherapy tend to differ from person to person. Side effects might also change according to the specific mix of chemicals used. Most individuals are pretty well aware of some of these symptoms, like hair loss for example. But that’s not necessarily the case with chemotherapy-induced hearing loss.
Can hearing loss be caused by chemotherapy?
Hearing loss is not the most prominent chemotherapy side effect. But hearing loss can be a real side effect of chemotherapy. Is related hearing loss irreversible? The answer is often yes.
So, what type of chemotherapy frequently comes with long-term hearing loss? In general, hearing loss tends to be most prevalent with platinum-based chemical protocols (called cisplatin-based chemotherapy). These types of therapies are most often utilized 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 precise cause-and-effect relationship is still unclear. Over time, this can trigger hearing loss, and that hearing loss tends to be permanent.
Even if you’re fighting cancer, you should still pay attention to hearing loss
Hearing loss may not seem like that much of an issue when you’re combating cancer. But even when you’re coping with cancer, there are considerable reasons why your hearing health is relevant:
- Hearing loss, especially neglected hearing loss, can negatively affect your mental health. Neglected hearing loss is closely associated with increases in depression and anxiety. Someone who is fighting cancer already has a heavy weight on their shoulders and the last thing they need is added anxiety and depression.
- Tinnitus and balance problems can also be the result of chemo-induced hearing loss. So can tinnitus also be caused by chemotherapy? Unfortunately, yes. Tinnitus is often associated with balance issues which can also be an issue. When you’re recouping from chemotherapy, the last thing you need is to take a fall.
- Social isolation is often the result of hearing loss. This can exacerbate many different conditions. In other words, receiving the appropriate treatment (or even buying the right groceries) can become harder when you’re feeling socially separated.
You’ll want to talk to your care team about minimizing other health concerns while you’re fighting cancer.
What’s the solution?
You’re at the doctor’s a lot when you’re fighting cancer. But don’t let that stop you from setting up an appointment for a hearing exam.
Going to a hearing specialist will help you do several things:
- Establish a hearing baseline. This will make it considerably easier to recognize hearing loss in the future.
- It will be easier to obtain fast treatment when you detect the signs or symptoms of hearing loss.
- Become a patient of a hearing specialist. If you experience hearing loss, your hearing specialist will have a more extensive picture of your needs, your health history, and what your hearing treatment should be.
So, can hearing loss from chemo be reversed? Regrettably, sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible, no matter the cause. 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. You may need hearing aids or you may simply need your hearing to be monitored.
It’s mostly frequencies in the higher range that go when your hearing loss is caused by chemo. Your day-to-day hearing may not even really be impacted.
Caring for your hearing is important
Paying attention to your hearing is essential. If you’re worried about how chemotherapy might impact your hearing, talk to 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 more rapid treatment.
Hearing loss can be caused by chemotherapy. But if you consult your hearing specialist, they will help you formulate a plan that will help you get in front of the symptoms.