Dealing with cancer is awful. Patients have to go through a very tough time and some of the side effects of chemotherapy are frequently ignored. But for a great number of cancer survivors, there will be a life after cancer and that’s an important thing to keep in mind. And, obviously, you want a really full and happy life!
This means it’s important to talk to your care team about decreasing and dealing with side effects caused by your treatment. You’ll be able to enjoy life after cancer more completely, for instance, if you discuss potential balance and hearing issues that could arise after chemotherapy, with your care team.
Cancer treatment options
In the past couple of decades, significant advancements in cancer treatment have been made. There are even some vaccines that can stop the development of some cancers in the first place! But in general, doctors will make use of 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 in some cases, they’re used together. Your care team will use your diagnosis and prognosis to determine the best course of treatment.
Do hearing and balance problems come with all cancer treatments? Well, every patient is different, but in general, these side effects are limited to chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy – what is it?
Chemotherapy kills cancer cells with a blend of strong chemicals. Because of its extremely successful track record, chemotherapy is frequently the main treatment choice for a wide array of cancers. But because these chemicals are so strong, chemotherapy can produce some unpleasant side effects. Here are a few of these side effects:
- Mouth sores
- Hair loss (including your nose hairs)
- Loss of hearing
- Tiredness and fatigue
Every patient reacts to chemotherapy in their own way. The particular mix of chemicals also has a significant impact on the specific side effects. 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-caused hearing loss.
Does chemo cause hearing loss?
Loss of hearing isn’t one of the more well known side effects of chemotherapy. But hearing loss can be an actual side effect of chemotherapy. Is related hearing loss irreversible? The answer is often yes.
So is there a particular type of chemo that is more likely to result in hearing loss? In general, hearing loss tends to be most prevalent with platinum-based chemical protocols (known as 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 as well.
Scientists believe that platinum-based chemotherapy chemicals attack and damage the tiny fragile stereocilia in the ears, but the precise cause-and-effect relationship is still unclear. This can cause hearing loss that is often irreversible.
Even if you’re battling cancer, you still need to keep your eye on hearing loss
Hearing loss may not seem like that much of an issue when you’re combating cancer. But even when you’re dealing with cancer, there are significant reasons why the health of your hearing is relevant:
- Social isolation is frequently the result of hearing loss. Many different conditions can be aggravated by this. If you’re feeling isolated socially, it can become challenging to do daily activities, especially getting appropriate treatment.
- Chemotherapy-caused hearing loss can also result in balance issues and tinnitus. So, now you’re thinking: hold on, does chemotherapy cause tinnitus too? Well, unfortunately, the answer is yes. Tinnitus is often linked to balance problems which can also be a problem. When you’re recovering from chemotherapy, the last thing you need is to take a fall.
- Hearing loss can negatively affect your mental health, especially if that hearing loss is neglected. Anxiety and depression are closely connected to neglected hearing loss. Fighting cancer can, similarly, increase anxiety and depression, so you don’t want to make matters worse.
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 constantly when you’re fighting cancer. But it’s important to add one more appointment to your list: schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist.
Seeing a hearing specialist will help you do several things:
- Establish a baseline for your hearing. This will make it substantially easier to recognize hearing loss in the future.
- If you do detect hearing loss, it will be easier to get fast treatment.
- Establish a relationship with 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.
So, can hearing loss as a result of chemo be reversed? Unfortunately, sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible, no matter the cause. But there are treatment possibilities. Your hearing specialist will be capable of helping you treat and manage your hearing loss. You might require hearing aids or you might simply need your hearing to be monitored.
It’s mostly frequencies in the higher register that go when your hearing loss is triggered by chemo. It might not even have any effect on your day-to-day hearing.
Your hearing health is important
It’s critical to take care of your hearing health. If you have concerns about how chemotherapy might impact 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 monitor 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 get effective treatments that keep you hearing better longer.