Coping with cancer is awful. Patients have to go through a very hard time and some of the side effects of chemotherapy are often disregarded. But for a great number of cancer survivors, there is a life after cancer and that’s an important thing to remember. And you want that life to be as full and prosperous as possible.
This means it’s crucial to speak with your care team about minimizing and managing side effects caused by your treatment. By talking about potential hearing loss, tinnitus, or balance issues that might arise from chemotherapy, for instance, you’ll be better prepared for what comes next, and be in a better position to completely enjoy life after cancer.
Cancer treatment options
Cancer treatment has progressed significantly in the past 20 years. There are even some vaccines that can prevent the development of certain cancers in the first place! But, broadly speaking, there are still three typical ways that doctors will combat this serious disease: surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.
There are unique drawbacks and strengths to each of these, and in some cases, 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 issues 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 kills cancer cells with a combination of strong chemicals. Because of its highly successful track record, chemotherapy is often the leading treatment choice for a wide variety of cancers. But chemotherapy can create some really uncomfortable side effects because these chemicals are so powerful. Those side effects can include:
- Hair loss
- Tiredness and fatigue
- Hearing loss
- Mouth sores
Every patient reacts to chemotherapy in their own way. Side effects might also vary depending on the specific mix of chemicals used. Some of these side effects tend to be pretty visible and well known (hair loss, for instance). But not so many individuals are aware of chemotherapy related hearing loss.
Does chemo cause hearing loss?
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 related hearing loss irreversible? In many instances, yes.
So is there a specific type of chemo that is more likely to cause hearing loss? In general, hearing loss tends to be most common with platinum-based chemical protocols (called cisplatin-based chemotherapy). This type of therapy can be used on various forms of cancers but is most frequently used to treat head, neck, and gynecological cancers.
Scientists aren’t exactly certain how the cause and effect works, but the basic thought is that platinum-based chemotherapy chemicals are particularly skilled at causing harm to the delicate hairs in your ear. This can cause hearing loss that is often irreversible.
Even if you’re fighting cancer, you still need to keep your eye on hearing loss
When you’re fighting cancer, hearing loss may not seem like your biggest concern. But there are significant reasons why your hearing health is relevant, even in the midst of battling cancer:
- Social isolation is frequently the result of hearing loss. Lots of different conditions can be exacerbated by this. In other words, getting the appropriate treatment (or even purchasing the right groceries) can become harder when you’re feeling socially isolated.
- Hearing loss can negatively affect your mental health, especially if that hearing loss is neglected. Anxiety and depression are closely connected to untreated hearing loss. Battling cancer can, similarly, increase anxiety and depression, so you don’t want to make matters worse.
- Chemotherapy-caused hearing loss can also lead to balance problems and tinnitus. So, now you’re thinking: wait, does chemotherapy lead to tinnitus too? Regrettably, yes. This tinnitus and loss of balance can be an issue, too. When you’re recovering from chemotherapy, the last thing you need is to have a fall.
You’ll want to talk to your care team about minimizing other health concerns while you’re fighting cancer.
So what should you do?
When you’re fighting cancer, your life becomes never-ending doctor’s appointments. But it’s worthwhile to add one more appointment to your list: schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist.
Here are several things that seeing a hearing specialist will help with:
- If you do experience hearing loss, it will be easier to obtain fast treatment.
- 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 can look like.
- Establish a hearing baseline. This will make it significantly easier to detect hearing loss in the future.
So, can hearing loss as a result of chemo be reversed? Regardless of the cause, sensorineural hearing loss has no cure, sadly. But there are treatment possibilities. Your hearing loss can be treated and managed with the help of your hearing specialist. You might require hearing aids or you may just need your hearing to be monitored.
It should be mentioned, too, that the majority of chemotherapy-caused hearing loss often affects the higher-range of hearing frequencies. Your day-to-day hearing may not even really be impacted.
Caring for your hearing is important
It’s crucial to take care of your hearing health. If you’re worried about how chemotherapy may impact your hearing, talk to your care team. You may not be able to change treatment options, but at least you’ll be able to closely monitor your symptoms and treat them appropriately.
Hearing loss can be induced by chemotherapy. But if you consult your hearing specialist, they will help you develop a plan that will help you stay in front of the symptoms.