Mesothelioma treatments can knock the stuffing out of you. A frequently used treatment is chemotherapy and common side effects can include fatigue, nausea, vomiting, hair loss, diarrhoea, constipation and low blood count. Treatment affects everyone differently. In this article we discuss some of the less well-known side effects:
Some chemotherapy drugs are ototoxic. This means that they have a toxic effect on the ear or its nerve supply, which can result in hearing problems. We hear sounds due to tiny hair cells in the cochlea moving back and forth. Chemotherapy can damage these hair cells and cause temporary or permanent hearing loss in patients.
As well as affecting hearing, chemotherapy can cause or worsen tinnitus. Tinnitus is a noise that is heard in the absence of external noise. It is often heard as a ringing or buzzing noise.
Current research is attempting to develop a medication that protects the ear during chemotherapy treatment.
To minimise your risk, doctors should monitor your hearing before, during and after treatment. However, in some cases permanent hearing loss is, unfortunately, unavoidable.
Chemotherapy can damage the proteins of the lenses in the eyes and, as a result, cataracts can develop. This causes cloudy vision. Thankfully, surgery can remove cataracts and restore clear vision.
Some chemotherapy drugs can damage the optic nerve, which results in blurred or double vision. Furthermore, some patients can suffer with photophobia. This is a sensitivity to light, which causes pain when the pupils go smaller in bright light.
Balance and co-ordination problems
As chemotherapy can affect the ears, it can cause problems with balance. The vestibular system of the inner ear regulates balance and if this affected, you can suffer with dizziness or vertigo.
Feelings in the extremities
Chemotherapy is toxic to cancer cells but also to the healthy cells in the body. Some people may experience ‘peripheal neuropathy.’ This is damage to nerves and it can make it difficult for signals to travel from the brain to extremities and vice versa. This can cause tingling or numbness in the fingers and toes. It may also cause patients to become clumsy as the change in sensation makes it difficult to hold items.
Changes in taste
Many people undergoing chemotherapy report a change in their taste. Whilst receiving the treatment they may experience ‘metal mouth.’ This is a metallic taste in the mouth caused as the chemotherapy drugs mix with saliva.
Chemotherapy can damage taste buds and so the sense of taste could be lost. Alternatively, the sensitivity to flavours may change and patients may no longer enjoy something that they did before treatment.
Although some of the above side effects do not seem serious, they can be indicators of a bad reaction to treatment and so all side effects, no matter how small, should be reported to the treating medical team.
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