There’s nothing that’s good about cancer. As a result, patients receiving cancer treatment will in some cases feel compelled to dismiss cancer treatment side effects, including hearing loss, as trivial. But for a great number of cancer survivors, there is a life after cancer and that’s an important thing to remember. And, obviously, you want a very full and happy life!
This means it’s essential to speak with your care team about reducing and dealing with side effects caused by your treatment. You’ll be able to enjoy life after cancer more completely, for example, if you discuss potential balance and hearing problems that could arise post chemotherapy, with your care team.
Available cancer treatments
In the past couple of decades, considerable developments in cancer treatment have been accomplished. There are even some vaccines that can stop the development of some cancers in the first place! But, generally speaking, there are still three basic ways that doctors will fight this serious disease: surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.
Each treatment option has its own unique 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 hearing and balance problems come with all cancer treatments? Well, each patient is different, but in general, these side effects are restricted to chemotherapy.
What is chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy kills cancer cells with a combination of strong chemicals. For a wide range of cancers, chemotherapy is the main course of treatment because of its very successful track record. But because these chemicals are so powerful, chemotherapy can cause some uncomfortable side effects. Those side effects can include:
- Sores in the mouth
- Hair loss (including your nose hairs)
- Hearing loss
- Fatigue and tiredness
Side effects of chemotherapy have a tendency to vary from person to person. Side effects might also vary based on the specific mix of chemicals used. Some of these side effects tend to be fairly visible and well known (hair loss, for example). But that isn’t necessarily the case with chemotherapy-caused hearing loss.
Does chemo produce hearing loss?
Loss of hearing isn’t one of the better known side effects of chemotherapy. But hearing loss can be an actual side effect of chemotherapy. Is chemo-induced hearing loss irreversible? In many cases, yes.
So, what type of chemotherapy frequently comes with long-term hearing loss? Generally speaking, hearing loss tends to be most prevalent with platinum-based chemical protocols (known as cisplatin-based chemotherapy). These kinds of therapies are most often used to treat head, neck, and gynecological cancers, but they can be used on other cancers also.
Scientists believe that platinum-based chemotherapy chemicals attack and damage the tiny delicate stereocilia in the ears, but the precise cause-and-effect relationship is still unclear. Over time, this can cause hearing loss, and that hearing loss is often permanent.
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 worry when you’re combating cancer. But even when you’re dealing with cancer, there are substantial reasons why the health of your hearing is relevant:
- Social isolation is often the outcome of hearing loss. Lots of different conditions can be aggravated by this. In other words, getting the correct treatment (or even purchasing the right groceries) can become harder when you’re feeling socially isolated.
- Chemotherapy-caused hearing loss can also lead to balance problems and tinnitus. So can tinnitus also be triggered by chemotherapy? Sadly, yes. This tinnitus and loss of balance can be an issue, too. You don’t want to fall down when you’re recovering from your chemotherapy treatment!
- Hearing loss, particularly neglected hearing loss, can negatively impact your mental health. 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.
Minimizing other health concerns while you’re fighting cancer will most likely be a priority, and something you’ll want to talk to your care team about.
What’s the solution?
When you’re fighting cancer, your life becomes never-ending doctor’s appointments. But it’s beneficial to add one more appointment to your list: make an appointment with a hearing specialist.
Here are a number of things that visiting a hearing specialist will help with:
- If you do detect hearing loss, it will be easier to obtain 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 detect.
So if you experience hearing loss from chemo, can it be reversed? Regardless of the cause, sensorineural hearing loss can’t be cured, unfortunately. 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. This might mean simple monitoring or it might include a set of hearing aids.
It should be noted, too, that most chemotherapy-caused hearing loss often impacts the higher-range of hearing frequencies. It may not even have any impact on your day-to-day hearing.
Caring for your hearing is important
It’s crucial to pay attention to your hearing health. Discuss any concerns you may have about how chemotherapy could affect 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 more rapid treatment.
Chemotherapy can cause hearing loss. But with the correct plan, and a little help from your hearing specialist, you’ll be able to find effective treatments that keep you hearing better longer.