Coping with cancer is awful. Patients have to go through a really tough time and some of the side effects of chemotherapy are often dismissed. But for a great number of cancer survivors, there is a life after cancer and that’s an essential thing to keep in mind. And, obviously, you want a very full and happy life!
This means it’s important to speak with your care team about reducing and managing side effects caused by your treatment. By discussing possible hearing loss, tinnitus, or balance issues that may arise from chemotherapy, for example, you’ll be more ready for what comes next, and be in a better position to truly enjoy life after cancer.
Available cancer treatments
In the past 20 years, significant developments in cancer treatment have been made. The development of some cancers can even be prevented with vaccines. But generally, doctors will make use of one or more of three different ways to combat this disease: radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery.
There are distinctive drawbacks and strengths to each of these, and sometimes, they’re used together. 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? Normally, these side effects only accompany chemotherapy, but every patient is different.
Chemotherapy – what is it?
Chemotherapy is a mixture 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 very successful track record. But because these chemicals are so powerful, chemotherapy can create some unpleasant side effects. Those side effects can include:
- Mouth sores
- Hair loss
- Tiredness and fatigue
- Hearing loss
Every patient reacts to chemotherapy in their own way. Side effects may also vary based on the particular combination of chemicals used. Most individuals are pretty 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 produce hearing loss?
Loss of hearing isn’t 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? The answer is frequently yes.
So, what type of chemotherapy frequently comes with long-term hearing loss? In general, hearing loss tends to be most prevalent 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 believe that platinum-based chemotherapy chemicals attack and damage the tiny delicate stereocilia in the ears, but the precise cause-and-effect relationship is still unclear. Over time, this can cause hearing loss, and that hearing loss is usually permanent.
Hearing loss is something you want to keep your eye on, even when you’re fighting cancer
When you’re fighting cancer, hearing loss may not feel like your most pressing concern. But even when you’re dealing with cancer, there are substantial reasons why the health of your hearing is important:
- Social isolation is frequently the result of hearing loss. This can aggravate many different conditions. If you’re feeling isolated socially, it can become tedious to do daily activities, especially getting appropriate treatment.
- 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? Unfortunately, yes. Tinnitus is often connected with balance issues which can also be an issue. When you’re recouping from chemotherapy, the last thing you need is to have a fall.
- Hearing loss, especially neglected hearing loss, can negatively impact your mental health. Anxiety and depression are closely linked to untreated hearing loss. Someone who is battling cancer already has a heavy weight on their shoulders and the last thing they need is added anxiety and depression.
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?
When you’re fighting cancer, your life becomes a laundry list of doctor’s appointments. But don’t let that stop you from setting up an appointment for a hearing test.
Seeing a hearing specialist will help you do several things:
- Begin a relationship with a hearing professional. Your hearing specialist will have a more detailed understanding of the state of your hearing and its needs, if you do have hearing loss.
- Set a baseline for your hearing. This will make it substantially easier to recognize hearing loss in the future.
- It will be easier to get fast treatment when you notice the signs or symptoms of hearing loss.
So if you get hearing loss from chemo, can it be cured? Sadly, sensorineural hearing loss is permanent, no matter the cause. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a treatment. Your hearing specialist will be capable of helping you treat and manage your hearing loss. This may mean basic monitoring or it may include a set of hearing aids.
It’s mostly frequencies in the higher range that go when your hearing loss is caused by chemo. It might not even have any effect on your day-to-day hearing.
Caring for your hearing is important
Taking good care of your hearing is essential. If you’re worried about how chemotherapy might impact your hearing, talk to your care team. Your treatment may 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.
Chemotherapy can trigger hearing loss. But with the correct plan, and a little help from your hearing specialist, you’ll be able to find effective treatments that keep you hearing better longer.