There’s nothing that’s good about cancer. Patients have to go through a really difficult time and some of the side effects of chemotherapy are often dismissed. 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, of course, you want a very full and happy life!
This means it’s essential to speak with your care team about minimizing 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 possible balance and hearing problems that could occur after chemotherapy, with your care team.
Cancer treatment options
Cancer treatment has advanced significantly in the past couple of decades. There are even some vaccines that can stop the development of certain cancers in the first place! But, generally speaking, there are still three typical 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. The best treatment course will be determined by your diagnosis, your prognosis, and your care team.
Do all cancer treatments cause hearing and balance problems? Well, each patient is different, but generally, these side effects are restricted to chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy – what is it?
Chemotherapy destroys cancer cells with a blend of strong chemicals. Because of its very successful track record, chemotherapy is often the leading treatment option for a wide array of cancers. But chemotherapy can produce some really uncomfortable side effects because these chemicals are so strong. Those side effects can include:
- Hair loss
- Mouth sores
- Loss of hearing
- Fatigue and tiredness
Side effects of chemotherapy often differ from person to person. The particular mix of chemicals also has a considerable effect on the specific side effects. Most individuals are fairly well aware of some of these symptoms, like hair loss for instance. But not so many individuals are aware of chemotherapy related hearing loss.
Does chemo produce hearing loss?
Loss of hearing is not one of the better known side effects of chemotherapy. But the truth is that chemotherapy can and does bring about hearing loss. Is hearing loss from chemo permanent? In many instances, yes.
So, what type of chemotherapy frequently comes with long-term hearing loss? Generally speaking, hearing loss tends to be most common with platinum-based chemical protocols (called cisplatin-based chemotherapy). These types 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 exactly sure how the cause and effect works, but the general sense is that platinum-based chemotherapy chemicals are particularly adept at causing harm 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 battling cancer, you still need to keep your eye on hearing loss
When you’re fighting cancer, hearing loss may not feel like your most pressing concern. But there are substantial reasons why your hearing health is relevant, even in the midst of battling cancer:
- Chemotherapy-caused hearing loss can also lead to balance issues and tinnitus. So, now you’re thinking: wait, does chemotherapy cause 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.
- Hearing loss, especially neglected hearing loss, can negatively affect your mental health. Neglected hearing loss is closely related to increases in depression and anxiety. Someone who is battling cancer already has a heavy weight on their shoulders and the last thing they need is extra anxiety and depression.
- Social isolation is frequently the result of hearing loss. This can exacerbate many different conditions. If you’re feeling isolated socially, it can become challenging to do everyday activities, especially getting appropriate treatment.
Reducing 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.
So what should you do?
You’re at the doctor’s a lot when you’re fighting cancer. But don’t allow that to stop you from scheduling an appointment for a hearing test.
Here are a number of things that visiting a hearing specialist will help with:
- Set a hearing baseline. Then, if you develop hearing loss in the future, it will be easier to detect.
- Establish a relationship with a hearing specialist. If you detect hearing loss, your hearing specialist will have a more extensive understanding of your needs, your health history, and what your hearing treatment can look like.
- It will be easier to receive prompt treatment when you notice the signs or symptoms of hearing loss.
So if you get hearing loss from chemo, can it be cured? Unfortunately, sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible, no matter the cause. But there are treatment options. Your hearing specialist will be capable of helping you treat and manage your hearing loss. This may mean basic monitoring or it might include a pair of hearing aids.
It should be noted, too, that the majority of chemotherapy-caused hearing loss usually 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
Paying attention to your hearing is crucial. Discuss any concerns you might have about how chemotherapy might affect your hearing with 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.
Hearing loss can be induced by chemotherapy. 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.