Dealing with cancer is horrible. Because of this, patients getting cancer treatment will in some cases feel compelled to disregard cancer treatment side effects, including hearing loss, as trivial. But it’s essential to keep in mind that, for a great many cancer patients, there will be life after your disease. And, of course, you want a really full and happy life!
Talking to your healthcare team about managing and minimizing side effects is so important because of this. You’ll be able to enjoy life after cancer more fully, for instance, if you talk about possible balance and hearing problems that could occur post chemotherapy, with your care team.
Cancer treatment options
In the past 20 years, substantial advancements in cancer treatment have been made. 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 combat this serious disease: surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.
Each treatment method has its own unique 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 issues come with all cancer treatments? Well, each patient is different, but generally, these side effects are limited to chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy – what is it?
Chemotherapy is a combination of treatments that use strong chemicals to kill cancer cells. For a wide array of cancers, chemotherapy is the primary course of treatment because of its very successful track record. But chemotherapy can produce some very uncomfortable side effects because these chemicals are so powerful. Here are a few of these side effects:
- Hair loss
- Sores in the mouth
- Loss of hearing
- Fatigue and tiredness
Side effects of chemotherapy often differ from person to person. Side effects may also change based on the specific combination of chemicals used. Some of these side effects tend to be pretty visible and well known (hair loss, for example). But not so many individuals are aware of 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 chemo-induced hearing loss irreversible? The answer is often yes.
So is there a specific type of chemo that is more likely to cause hearing loss? Generally speaking, hearing loss tends to be most common with platinum-based chemical protocols (called cisplatin-based chemotherapy). This type of therapy can be used on various forms of cancers but is most frequently used to treat head, neck, and gynecological cancers.
Scientists think that platinum-based chemotherapy chemicals attack and damage the little fragile stereocilia in the ears, but the precise cause-and-effect relationship is still not clear. Over time, this can cause hearing loss, and that hearing loss tends to be permanent.
Even if you’re fighting cancer, you should still pay attention to hearing loss
Hearing loss may not seem like that much of a worry when you’re fighting cancer. But even when you’re dealing with cancer, there are substantial reasons why the health of your hearing is relevant:
- Chemotherapy-caused hearing loss can also lead to balance problems and tinnitus. So, now you’re thinking: hold on, does chemotherapy lead to tinnitus too? Well, regrettably, the answer is 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!
- Social isolation is often the result of hearing loss. This can aggravate many different conditions. In other words, getting the appropriate treatment (or even purchasing the right groceries) can become harder when you are feeling socially separated.
- Hearing loss can negatively impact your mental health, especially if that hearing loss is untreated. Anxiety and depression are closely connected to neglected hearing loss. Battling cancer can, similarly, increase anxiety and depression, so you don’t want to make matters worse.
Decreasing 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 battling cancer. But don’t allow that to stop you from setting up an appointment for a hearing test.
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.
- It will be easier to get prompt treatment when you notice the signs or symptoms of hearing loss.
- Establish 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.
So if you develop hearing loss from chemo, can it be cured? Regrettably, sensorineural hearing loss is permanent, regardless of the cause. But there are treatment possibilities. Your hearing specialist will be capable of helping you address and manage your hearing loss. You might need hearing aids or you might simply need your hearing to be tracked.
It’s mostly frequencies in the higher register that go when your hearing loss is due to chemo. It may not even have any impact on your day-to-day hearing.
Caring for your hearing is important
It’s essential to pay attention to your hearing health. Discuss any concerns you may have about how chemotherapy might impact your hearing with your care team. Your treatment might not be able to change but at least you’ll be better able to track your symptoms and to get faster treatment.
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 stay in front of the symptoms.