Dealing with cancer is horrible. Patients have to go through a really difficult time and some of the side effects of chemotherapy are frequently dismissed. But for a large number of cancer survivors, there is a life after cancer and that’s an important thing to remember. And, of course, you want a very full and happy life!
This means it’s important to speak with your care team about decreasing and managing side effects caused by your treatment. You’ll be able to enjoy life after cancer more completely, for example, if you discuss possible balance and hearing issues that could arise post chemotherapy, with your care team.
Cancer treatment options
Cancer treatment has progressed substantially in the past 20 years. There are even some vaccines that can stop the development of certain cancers in the first place! But generally, doctors will utilize one or more of three different ways to battle this disease: radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery.
There are unique drawbacks and strengths to each of these, and sometimes, they’re used in tandem. The best treatment course will be determined 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 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 very successful track record. But because these chemicals are so powerful, chemotherapy can produce some unpleasant side effects. Here are several of these side effects:
- Loss of hearing
- Fatigue and tiredness
- Hair loss (including your nose hairs)
- Sores in the mouth
Every patient responds to chemotherapy in their own way. The particular combination of chemicals also has a substantial impact on the specific side effects. Some of these side effects are often pretty visible and well known (hair loss, for instance). But that’s not necessarily the case with chemotherapy-induced hearing loss.
Can hearing loss be brought about by chemotherapy?
Loss of hearing is not one of the more well known side effects of chemotherapy. But hearing loss can be a real 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? Generally speaking, hearing loss tends to be most prevalent with platinum-based chemical protocols (known as cisplatin-based chemotherapy). 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 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 is usually permanent.
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 fighting cancer. But there are considerable reasons why your hearing health is important, even in the midst of battling cancer:
- Hearing loss, especially neglected hearing loss, can negatively affect your mental health. Anxiety and depression are closely associated with 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.
- Chemotherapy-caused hearing loss can also result in balance problems and tinnitus. So can tinnitus also be triggered by chemotherapy? Regrettably, 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 take a fall.
- Hearing loss has been known to cause social isolation. Many different conditions can be exacerbated by this. In other words, obtaining the appropriate treatment (or even buying the right groceries) can become harder when you are feeling socially separated.
Minimizing other health concerns while you’re fighting cancer will likely be a priority, and something you’ll want to talk to your care team about.
So what should you do?
When you’re battling cancer, your life becomes a laundry list of doctor’s appointments. But it’s beneficial to add one more appointment to your list: schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist.
Here are a number of things that visiting a hearing specialist will help with:
- If you do experience hearing loss, it will be easier to get rapid treatment.
- Become a patient of a hearing specialist. Your hearing specialist will have a more detailed understanding of the state of your hearing and its needs, if you do have hearing loss.
- Establish a hearing baseline. Then, if you experience hearing loss in the future, it will be easier to recognize.
So, can hearing loss as a result of chemo be reversed? No matter the cause, sensorineural hearing loss can’t be cured, regrettably. But there are treatment options. Your hearing specialist will be capable of helping you treat and manage your hearing loss. You may need hearing aids or you might just need your hearing to be tracked.
It’s mostly frequencies in the higher range that go when your hearing loss is triggered by chemo. Your day-to-day hearing may not even really be impacted.
Your hearing health is important
It’s critical to take care of your hearing health. Talk over any concerns you might have about how chemotherapy may impact your hearing with your care team. Your treatment might not be able to change but at least you’ll be better able to track your symptoms and to get faster treatment.
Chemotherapy can trigger hearing loss. But if you talk to your hearing specialist, they will help you develop a plan that will help you stay in front of the symptoms.