Adult woman suffering from hearing loss after having chemotherapy treatments discussing symptoms with her doctor.

Dealing with cancer is awful. Because of this, patients getting cancer treatment will in some cases feel compelled to disregard cancer treatment side effects, such as hearing loss, as trivial. But for a great number of cancer survivors, there will be a life after cancer and that’s an important thing to remember. And you want that life to be as full and prosperous as possible.

This means it’s essential to talk to your care team about reducing and managing side effects caused by your treatment. By talking about potential hearing loss, tinnitus, or balance issues that may develop from chemotherapy, for example, you’ll be more ready for what happens next, and be in a better position to truly enjoy life after cancer.

Cancer treatment options

In the past 20 years, significant advancements in cancer treatment have been made. The development of some cancers can even be prevented with vaccines. But, broadly speaking, there are still three basic ways that doctors will combat this serious disease: surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

There are distinctive drawbacks and strengths to each of these, and sometimes, they’re used in tandem. The best treatment course will be guided by your diagnosis, your prognosis, and your care team.

Do all cancer treatments lead to hearing and balance issues? Well, each patient is different, but in general, these side effects are restricted to chemotherapy.

What is chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy kills cancer cells with a blend of strong chemicals. Because of its extremely successful track record, chemotherapy is frequently the primary treatment choice for a wide array of cancers. But chemotherapy can bring on some very uncomfortable side effects because these chemicals are so powerful. Here are several of these side effects:

  • Tiredness and fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of hearing
  • Sores in the mouth
  • Hair loss (including your nose hairs)

Every patient reacts to chemotherapy in their own way. The particular combination of chemicals also has a substantial impact on the specific side effects. Some of these side effects are often fairly visible and well known (hair loss, for instance). But not so many people are aware of chemotherapy induced hearing loss.

Can hearing loss be caused by chemotherapy?

Hearing loss is not the most well recognized chemotherapy side effect. But hearing loss can be a real side effect of chemotherapy. Is chemo-induced hearing loss irreversible? In many cases, yes.

So, what type of chemotherapy often comes with long-term hearing loss? Generally speaking, 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 kinds of cancers but is most often used to treat head, neck, and gynecological cancers.

Scientists aren’t really sure how the cause and effect works, but the basic thought is that platinum-based chemotherapy chemicals are especially skilled at causing harm to the fragile hairs in your ear. Over time, this can cause hearing loss, and that hearing loss tends to be permanent.

Even if you’re battling cancer, you still need to pay attention to hearing loss

Hearing loss might not seem like that much of a concern when you’re battling cancer. But there are substantial reasons why your hearing health is important, even in the midst of battling cancer:

  • Social isolation is often the outcome of hearing loss. This can aggravate many different conditions. If you’re feeling isolated socially, it can become challenging to do everyday activities, especially getting appropriate treatment.
  • Hearing loss can negatively impact your mental health, particularly if that hearing loss is neglected. Anxiety and depression are closely connected to untreated hearing loss. Someone who is battling cancer already has a heavy weight on their shoulders and the last thing they need is more anxiety and depression.
  • Chemotherapy-caused hearing loss can also lead to balance issues and tinnitus. So can tinnitus also be triggered by chemotherapy? Unfortunately, yes. Tinnitus is frequently associated with balance issues which can also be an issue. You don’t want to fall when you’re recovering from your chemotherapy treatment!

Minimizing 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.

What’s the solution?

When you’re battling cancer, your life becomes a laundry list of doctor’s appointments. But it’s worthwhile to add one more appointment to your list: make an appointment with a hearing specialist.

Here are several things that visiting a hearing specialist will help with:

  • Establish a baseline for your hearing. This will make it considerably easier to recognize hearing loss in the future.
  • Establish a relationship with a hearing professional. If you experience hearing loss, your hearing specialist will have a more in depth understanding of your needs, your health history, and what your hearing treatment can look like.
  • If you do notice hearing loss, it will be easier to obtain fast treatment.

So if you get hearing loss from chemo, can it be cured? No matter the cause, sensorineural hearing loss has no cure, unfortunately. 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. You may need hearing aids or you may simply need your hearing to be monitored.

It should be noted, too, that the majority of chemotherapy-caused hearing loss normally impacts the higher-range of hearing frequencies. It might not necessarily have any impact on your day-to-day hearing.

Your hearing health is important

It’s crucial to take care of your hearing health. If you’re worried about how chemotherapy may affect your hearing, talk to your care team. Your treatment may not be able to be altered but at least you’ll be better able to keep an eye on your symptoms and to get faster treatment.

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.

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The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.

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