There’s nothing that’s good about cancer. As a result, patients receiving cancer treatment will sometimes feel compelled to dismiss cancer treatment side effects, including hearing loss, as trivial. 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 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 discussing possible hearing loss, tinnitus, or balance problems that may arise from chemotherapy, for example, you’ll be better prepared for what comes next, and be in a better position to fully enjoy life after cancer.
Available cancer treatments
In the past 20 years, substantial developments in cancer treatment have been accomplished. There are even some vaccines that can prevent the development of some cancers in the first place! But, generally speaking, there are still three basic ways that doctors will combat this serious disease: surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.
Each treatment method has its own distinctive strengths and drawbacks, and none of them are mutually exclusive. Your care team will use your diagnosis and prognosis to determine the best course of treatment.
Do all cancer treatments cause hearing and balance problems? Usually, these side effects only accompany chemotherapy, but every patient is different.
Chemotherapy – what is it?
Chemotherapy is a combination 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 extremely successful track record. But because these chemicals are so powerful, chemotherapy can cause some uncomfortable side effects. Here are a few of these side effects:
- Fatigue and tiredness
- Hair loss
- Sores in the mouth
- Loss of hearing
Side effects of chemotherapy often differ from person to person. The particular mix of chemicals also has a significant impact on the specific side effects. Some of these side effects are often fairly visible and well known (hair loss, for example). But not so many individuals are aware of chemotherapy induced hearing loss.
Does chemo cause hearing loss?
Hearing loss isn’t the most well known chemotherapy side effect. But the reality is that chemotherapy can and does bring about hearing loss. Is related hearing loss irreversible? In many instances, yes.
So, which chemotherapy often 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 used to treat head, neck, and gynecological cancers, but they can be used on other cancers as well.
Scientists think that platinum-based chemotherapy chemicals attack and damage the tiny delicate stereocilia in the ears, but the exact cause-and-effect relationship is still unclear. This can cause hearing loss that is often irreversible.
Hearing loss is something you want to keep your eye on, even when you’re battling cancer
Hearing loss might not seem like that much of a concern when you’re battling cancer. But even when you’re coping with cancer, there are substantial reasons why your hearing health is relevant:
- Tinnitus and balance issues can also be the outcome of chemo-related hearing loss. So can tinnitus also be triggered by chemotherapy? Well, regrettably, the answer is yes. Tinnitus is often associated with balance problems which can also be an issue. When you’re recovering from chemotherapy, the last thing you need is to have a fall.
- Hearing loss has been known to cause social isolation. This can aggravate lots of different conditions. In other words, obtaining the appropriate treatment (or even purchasing the right groceries) can become more difficult when you’re feeling socially separated.
- Hearing loss can negatively impact your mental health, especially if that hearing loss is neglected. Anxiety and depression are closely linked to neglected hearing loss. Battling cancer can, similarly, increase anxiety and depression, so you don’t want to add more fuel to that fire.
Minimizing other health issues while you’re fighting cancer will likely be a priority, and something you’ll want to speak with your care team about.
So what should you do?
When you’re fighting cancer, your life becomes a laundry list of doctor’s appointments. But it’s important to add one more appointment to your list: make an appointment with a hearing specialist.
Visiting a hearing specialist will help you do several things:
- If you do experience hearing loss, it will be easier to get fast treatment.
- Set a hearing baseline. This will make it considerably easier to recognize hearing loss in the future.
- Begin a relationship with a hearing specialist. If you experience hearing loss, your hearing specialist will have a more comprehensive understanding of your needs, your health history, and what your hearing treatment should be.
So, can hearing loss from chemo be reversed? Sadly, sensorineural hearing loss is permanent, no matter the cause. But there are treatment possibilities. Your hearing specialist will be capable of helping you address and manage your hearing loss. You may need hearing aids or you might just need your hearing to be monitored.
It should be noted, too, that the majority of chemotherapy-caused hearing loss normally impacts the higher-range of hearing frequencies. Your day-to-day hearing may not even really be impacted.
Caring for your hearing is important
Paying attention to your hearing is essential. Talk over any worries you may have about how chemotherapy could impact your hearing with 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 faster treatment.
Chemotherapy can trigger hearing loss. But with the correct plan, and a little assistance from your hearing specialist, you’ll be able to find effective treatments that keep you hearing better longer.