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

Coping with cancer is horrible. Because of this, patients getting cancer treatment will sometimes feel compelled to dismiss cancer treatment side effects, including hearing loss, as trivial. But for a large number of cancer survivors, there is a life after cancer and that’s a pretty important thing to remember. And, obviously, you want a really full and happy life!

Speaking with your healthcare team about controlling and minimizing side effects is so significant for this reason. You’ll be able to enjoy life after cancer more fully, for example, if you talk about potential balance and hearing issues that could develop post chemotherapy, with your care team.

Available cancer treatments

In the past 20 years, considerable 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, doctors will utilize one or more of three different ways to fight this disease: radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery.

Each treatment option has its own distinctive 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 problems come with all cancer treatments? Well, each patient is different, but in general, these side effects are restricted to chemotherapy.

What is chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is a mixture of treatments that utilize strong chemicals to kill cancer cells. For a wide variety of cancers, chemotherapy is the main course of treatment because of its extremely successful track record. But chemotherapy can bring on some very uncomfortable side effects because these chemicals are so strong. Those side effects can include:

  • Hair loss
  • Sores in the mouth
  • Loss of hearing
  • Fatigue and tiredness
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea

Side effects of chemotherapy often vary from person to person. Side effects might also vary based on the particular mix of chemicals used. Some of these side effects tend to be fairly visible and well known (hair loss, for instance). But that isn’t necessarily the case with chemotherapy-caused hearing loss.

Does chemo cause hearing loss?

Loss of hearing isn’t one of the better known side effects of chemotherapy. But hearing loss can be an actual side effect of chemotherapy. Is related hearing loss irreversible? The answer is often yes.

So is there a particular type of chemo that is more likely to result in hearing loss? Generally speaking, hearing loss tends to be most prevalent 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 certain how the cause and effect works, but the general sense is that platinum-based chemotherapy chemicals are particularly skilled at causing harm to the fragile hairs in your ear. Over time, this can trigger hearing loss, and that hearing loss tends to be permanent.

Hearing loss is something you want to pay attention to, even when you’re battling cancer

When you’re fighting cancer, hearing loss might not seem like your biggest concern. But there are substantial reasons why your hearing health is important, even in the midst of battling cancer:

  • Hearing loss has been known to result in social isolation. This can aggravate lots of 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: wait, does chemotherapy cause tinnitus too? Well, regrettably, the answer is yes. Tinnitus is frequently connected with balance problems which can also be an issue. You don’t want to fall when you’re recuperating from your chemotherapy treatment!
  • Hearing loss can negatively impact your mental health, particularly if that hearing loss is untreated. Anxiety and depression are closely connected to neglected hearing loss. Fighting cancer can, similarly, increase anxiety and depression, so you don’t want to add more fuel to that fire.

Decreasing other health concerns while you’re fighting cancer will likely be a priority, and something you’ll want to speak with 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 important to add one more appointment to your list: make an appointment with a hearing specialist.

Here are a number of things that seeing a hearing specialist will help with:

  • Become a patient of a hearing specialist. Your hearing specialist will have a more comprehensive understanding of the state of your hearing and its needs, if you do have hearing loss.
  • If you do notice hearing loss, it will be easier to get rapid treatment.
  • Establish a baseline for your hearing. Then, if you experience hearing loss in the future, it will be easier to identify.

So if you develop hearing loss from chemo, can it be cured? Regardless of the cause, sensorineural hearing loss can’t be cured, regrettably. But there are treatment possibilities. Your hearing specialist will be able to help you address and manage your hearing loss. This might mean basic monitoring or it may include a set of hearing aids.

It should be mentioned, too, that the majority of chemotherapy-caused hearing loss often 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

Paying attention to your hearing is essential. If you have concerns about how chemotherapy might affect your hearing, talk to 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 induced 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.

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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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