Dealing with cancer is awful. Because of this, patients receiving cancer treatment will sometimes feel compelled to dismiss cancer treatment side effects, like hearing loss, as trivial. But for a great number of cancer survivors, there is a life after cancer and that’s an essential thing to remember. And, obviously, you want a really full and happy life!
Speaking with your healthcare team about managing and decreasing side effects is so essential for this reason. You’ll be able to enjoy life after cancer more completely, for instance, if you discuss possible balance and hearing issues that could occur after chemotherapy, with your care team.
Available cancer treatments
In the past 20 years, considerable developments in cancer treatment have been made. The development of certain cancers can even be avoided with vaccines. But, broadly speaking, there are still three standard ways that doctors will fight this serious disease: surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.
Each treatment option has its own distinctive strengths and drawbacks, and none of them are mutually exclusive. Your care team will use your diagnosis and prognosis to establish the best course of treatment.
Do hearing and balance problems come with all cancer treatments? Well, every 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. For a wide array 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 lead to some unpleasant side effects. Here are a few of these side effects:
- Hearing loss
- Sores in the mouth
- Fatigue and tiredness
- Hair loss (including your nose hairs)
Every patient reacts to chemotherapy in their own way. Side effects may also change depending on the specific combination of chemicals used. Some of these side effects are often pretty visible and well known (hair loss, for instance). But not so many individuals are aware of chemotherapy related hearing loss.
Does chemo bring about hearing loss?
Hearing loss isn’t the most prominent chemotherapy side effect. But the reality is that chemotherapy can and does bring about hearing loss. Is related hearing loss irreversible? 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 various forms 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 particularly proficient at causing harm to the delicate hairs in your ear. 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 an issue when you’re battling cancer. But even when you’re dealing with cancer, there are considerable reasons why your hearing health is relevant:
- Chemotherapy-caused hearing loss can also lead to balance problems and tinnitus. So, now you’re thinking: wait, does chemotherapy cause tinnitus too? Sadly, yes. Tinnitus is often linked to balance problems which can also be a problem. You don’t want to fall down when you’re recovering from your chemotherapy treatment!
- Hearing loss has been known to cause social isolation. This can exacerbate lots of different conditions. In other words, getting the appropriate treatment (or even buying the right groceries) can become harder when you’re feeling socially isolated.
- Hearing loss can negatively impact your mental health, especially if that hearing loss is untreated. Neglected hearing loss is closely related to increases in depression and anxiety. Battling cancer can, similarly, increase anxiety and depression, so you don’t want to make matters worse.
Reducing other health issues 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 constantly when you’re fighting cancer. But don’t let that stop you from scheduling an appointment for a hearing test.
Here are a number of things that seeing a hearing specialist will help with:
- Establish a hearing baseline. Then, if you experience hearing loss in the future, it will be easier to recognize.
- Initiate a relationship with a hearing specialist. If you detect hearing loss, your hearing specialist will have a more complete 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 experience the signs or symptoms of hearing loss.
So, can hearing loss as a result of chemo be reversed? Unfortunately, sensorineural hearing loss is permanent, regardless of the cause. 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 basic monitoring or it may include a pair of hearing aids.
It’s mostly frequencies in the higher register that go when your hearing loss is caused by chemo. Your day-to-day hearing may not even really be effected.
Caring for your hearing is important
Paying attention to your hearing is essential. Discuss any worries you may have about how chemotherapy could 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 appropriately.
Chemotherapy can trigger hearing loss. But if you talk to your hearing specialist, they will help you develop a plan that will help you stay in front of the symptoms.