Dealing with cancer is terrible. Patients have to go through a very hard 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 remember. And, obviously, you want a very full and happy life!
This means it’s essential to talk to your care team about decreasing and dealing with side effects caused by your treatment. By discussing possible hearing loss, tinnitus, or balance issues that may develop from chemotherapy, for example, you’ll be more ready for what comes next, and be in a better position to completely enjoy life after cancer.
Cancer treatment options
Cancer treatment has advanced substantially in the past couple of decades. There are even some vaccines that can prevent the development of some cancers in the first place! But, broadly speaking, there are still three typical ways that doctors will fight this serious disease: surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.
There are unique drawbacks and strengths to each of these, and sometimes, they’re used in tandem. The best treatment course will be determined by your diagnosis, your prognosis, and your care team.
Do hearing and balance issues come with all cancer treatments? Well, each patient is different, but in general, these side effects are limited to chemotherapy.
What is chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy is a combination of treatments that use strong chemicals to kill cancer cells. For a wide range of cancers, chemotherapy is the main course of treatment because of its extremely successful track record. But because these chemicals are so powerful, chemotherapy can produce some uncomfortable side effects. Those side effects can include:
- Hearing loss
- Mouth sores
- Hair loss
- Fatigue and tiredness
Side effects of chemotherapy tend to vary from person to person. Side effects might also change according to the specific combination of chemicals used. Most people are fairly well aware of some of these symptoms, like hair loss for example. But not so many people are aware of chemotherapy related hearing loss.
Does chemo cause hearing loss?
Hearing loss isn’t the most well known chemotherapy side effect. But hearing loss can be an actual side effect of chemotherapy. Is hearing loss from chemo permanent? The answer is often yes.
So is there a specific type of chemo that is more likely to result in hearing loss? In general, hearing loss tends to be most common with platinum-based chemical protocols (known as cisplatin-based chemotherapy). This type of therapy can be used on numerous kinds of cancers but is most often used to treat head, neck, and gynecological cancers.
Scientists aren’t exactly sure how the cause and effect works, but the basic thought is that platinum-based chemotherapy chemicals are especially proficient at causing harm to the fragile hairs in your ear. This can cause hearing loss that is often irreversible.
Hearing loss is something you want to pay attention to, even when you’re fighting cancer
When you’re battling cancer, hearing loss may not seem like your most pressing concern. But there are significant reasons why your hearing health is relevant, even while you’re 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? Well, regrettably, the answer is yes. Tinnitus is often connected with balance issues which can also be an issue. 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 neglected. Untreated hearing loss is closely related to increases in depression and anxiety. Fighting cancer can, similarly, increase anxiety and depression, so you don’t want to add more fuel to that fire.
- Social isolation is frequently the result of hearing loss. Lots of different conditions can be exacerbated by this. If you’re feeling isolated socially, it can become tedious to do everyday activities, especially getting appropriate treatment.
You’ll want to speak with your care team about reducing other health issues while you’re fighting cancer.
So what should you do?
When you’re battling cancer, your life becomes a laundry list of doctor’s appointments. But don’t let that stop you from scheduling an appointment for a hearing exam.
Here are a number of things that visiting a hearing specialist will help with:
- Establish a hearing baseline. This will make it considerably easier to detect hearing loss in the future.
- Begin a relationship with a hearing professional. Your hearing specialist will have a more precise understanding of the state of your hearing and its needs, if you do have hearing loss.
- If you do experience hearing loss, it will be easier to get fast treatment.
So if you develop hearing loss from chemo, can it be cured? No matter the cause, sensorineural hearing loss can’t be cured, unfortunately. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a treatment. Your hearing specialist will be able to help you address and manage your hearing loss. This may mean basic monitoring or it may include a set of hearing aids.
It should be mentioned, too, that the majority of chemotherapy-caused hearing loss often impacts the higher-range of hearing frequencies. Your day-to-day hearing might not even really be impacted.
Your hearing health is important
Paying attention to your hearing is crucial. Talk over any concerns you may have about how chemotherapy may impact your hearing with your care team. Your treatment might not be able to change but at least you’ll be better able to keep an eye on your symptoms and to get more rapid treatment.
Hearing loss can be caused by chemotherapy. But if you consult your hearing specialist, they will help you develop a plan that will help you get in front of the symptoms.