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 it’s essential to remember that, for a great many cancer patients, there is life after your disease. And you want that life to be as full and prosperous as possible.
This means it’s important to talk to your care team about reducing and managing side effects caused by your treatment. By discussing possible hearing loss, tinnitus, or balance issues that might develop from chemotherapy, for example, you’ll be better prepared for what happens next, and be in a better position to completely enjoy life after cancer.
Cancer treatment options
Cancer treatment has progressed considerably in the past couple of decades. There are even some vaccines that can stop the development of some cancers in the first place! But, generally speaking, there are still three standard ways that doctors will combat this serious disease: surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.
There are distinctive drawbacks and strengths to each of these, and sometimes, they’re used together. The best treatment course will be guided by your diagnosis, your prognosis, and your care team.
Do hearing and balance issues come with all cancer treatments? Well, every patient is different, but in general, these side effects are restricted to chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy – what is it?
Chemotherapy kills cancer cells with a blend 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 cause some uncomfortable side effects. Here are a few of these side effects:
- Loss of hearing
- Hair loss (including your nose hairs)
- Mouth sores
- Fatigue and tiredness
Every patient reacts 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 fairly visible and well known (hair loss, for example). But that isn’t necessarily the case with chemotherapy-induced hearing loss.
Can hearing loss be caused by chemotherapy?
Loss of hearing is not one of the more well known side effects of chemotherapy. But the reality is that chemotherapy can and does bring about hearing loss. Is hearing loss from chemo permanent? The answer is often 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). These kinds of therapies are most commonly used to treat head, neck, and gynecological cancers, but they can be used for other cancers too.
Scientists aren’t really certain how the cause and effect works, but the basic thought is that platinum-based chemotherapy chemicals are particularly proficient at causing damage to the fragile hairs in your ear. Over time, this can cause hearing loss, and that hearing loss is usually permanent.
Even if you’re fighting cancer, you still need to pay attention to hearing loss
When you’re fighting cancer, hearing loss may not seem like your most pressing concern. But there are considerable reasons why your hearing health is important, even in the midst of battling cancer:
- Tinnitus and balance problems can also be the outcome of chemo-related hearing loss. So can tinnitus also be caused by chemotherapy? Sadly, yes. This tinnitus and loss of balance can be a problem, too. You don’t want to fall when you’re recuperating from your chemotherapy treatment!
- Hearing loss can negatively impact your mental health, especially if that hearing loss is untreated. Neglected hearing loss is closely associated with increases in depression and anxiety. Someone who is fighting cancer already has a heavy weight on their shoulders and the last thing they need is more anxiety and depression.
- Hearing loss has been known to cause social isolation. This can exacerbate many different conditions. If you’re feeling isolated socially, it can become laborious to do everyday activities, especially getting appropriate treatment.
You’ll want to speak with your care team about reducing other health concerns while you’re fighting cancer.
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: schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist.
Visiting a hearing specialist will help you do several things:
- Establish a baseline for your hearing. This will make it significantly easier to identify hearing loss in the future.
- Begin a relationship with a hearing professional. 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.
- If you do experience hearing loss, it will be easier to get rapid treatment.
So, can hearing loss as a result of chemo be reversed? Regardless of the cause, sensorineural hearing loss can’t be cured, regrettably. 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 could mean simple monitoring or it may include a pair of hearing aids.
It should be noted, too, that most chemotherapy-caused hearing loss normally affects the higher-range of hearing frequencies. It may not even have any effect on your day-to-day hearing.
Your hearing health is important
Paying attention to your hearing is essential. If you have concerns about how chemotherapy might impact your hearing, consult your care team. You may not be able to change treatment options, but at least you’ll be able to closely track your symptoms and treat them accordingly.
Hearing loss can be caused by chemotherapy. But if you talk to your hearing specialist, they will help you make a plan that will help you get in front of the symptoms.