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

Coping with cancer is awful. Because of this, patients getting cancer treatment will sometimes feel compelled to disregard cancer treatment side effects, like hearing loss, as insignificant. But it’s critical to keep in mind that, for a great many cancer patients, there is life after your disease. And you want that life to be as meaningful and prosperous as possible.

Talking to your healthcare team about controlling and minimizing side effects is so essential for this reason. You’ll be able to enjoy life after cancer more completely, for instance, if you talk about possible balance and hearing issues that could occur post chemotherapy, with your care team.

Cancer treatment options

Cancer treatment has progressed considerably in the past couple of decades. There are even some vaccines that can prevent the development of some cancers in the first place! But, generally speaking, there are still three basic ways that doctors will fight this serious disease: surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

Each treatment method has its own unique strengths and drawbacks, and none of them are mutually exclusive. The best treatment course will be guided by your diagnosis, your prognosis, and your care team.

Do hearing and balance issues come with all cancer treatments? Normally, these side effects only accompany chemotherapy, but every patient is different.

Chemotherapy – what is it?

Chemotherapy destroys cancer cells with a blend of strong chemicals. For a wide range of cancers, chemotherapy is the primary course of treatment because of its extremely successful track record. But chemotherapy can create some really uncomfortable side effects because these chemicals are so powerful. Those side effects can include:

  • Hair loss
  • Mouth sores
  • Loss of hearing
  • Fatigue and tiredness
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea

Side effects of chemotherapy often vary from person to person. The particular mix of chemicals also has a substantial impact on the specific side effects. Most individuals are fairly well aware of some of these symptoms, like hair loss for example. But that’s not always the case with chemotherapy-induced hearing loss.

Does chemo bring about hearing loss?

Loss of hearing is not one of the more well known side effects of chemotherapy. But the reality is that chemotherapy can and does cause hearing loss. Is chemo-induced hearing loss irreversible? In many instances, 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 (called cisplatin-based chemotherapy). This type of therapy can be used on numerous kinds of cancers but is most frequently used to treat head, neck, and gynecological cancers.

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 often permanent.

Even if you’re battling cancer, you still need to keep your eye on hearing loss

Hearing loss might not seem like that much of an issue when you’re combating cancer. But there are significant reasons why your hearing health is relevant, even in the midst of battling cancer:

  • Hearing loss can negatively affect your mental health, particularly if that hearing loss is neglected. Untreated hearing loss is closely associated with increases in depression and anxiety. Battling cancer can, similarly, increase depression and anxiety, so you don’t want to add more fuel to that fire.
  • Chemotherapy-caused hearing loss can also lead to balance problems and tinnitus. So, now you’re thinking: hold on, does chemotherapy cause tinnitus too? Well, unfortunately, 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 recuperating from your chemotherapy treatment!
  • Hearing loss has been known to cause social isolation. This can aggravate many different conditions. If you’re feeling isolated socially, it can become tedious to do daily activities, especially getting appropriate treatment.

Minimizing other health issues while you’re fighting cancer will most likely be a priority, and something you’ll want to speak with your care team about.

So what should you do?

When you’re fighting cancer, your life becomes never-ending doctor’s appointments. But it’s worthwhile to add one more appointment to your list: schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist.

Visiting a hearing specialist will help you do several things:

  • Set a baseline for your hearing. This will make it significantly easier to detect hearing loss in the future.
  • It will be easier to obtain prompt treatment when you experience the signs or symptoms of hearing loss.
  • Establish a relationship with a hearing professional. Your hearing specialist will have a more detailed knowledge of the state of your hearing and its needs, if you do have hearing loss.

So if you experience hearing loss from chemo, can it be cured? Sadly, sensorineural hearing loss is permanent, no matter the cause. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be treated. Your hearing specialist will be able to help you treat and manage your hearing loss. This may mean simple monitoring or it might include a pair of hearing aids.

It’s mostly frequencies in the higher range that go when your hearing loss is triggered by chemo. Your day-to-day hearing may not even really be effected.

Your hearing health is important

Taking good care of your hearing is crucial. Talk over any concerns you might have about how chemotherapy might affect your hearing with 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 more rapid treatment.

Chemotherapy can trigger hearing loss. But if you talk to your hearing specialist, they will help you make a plan that will help you get in front of the symptoms.

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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.