Cancer patients have a lot on their minds after being diagnosed with the disease. Did the doctor detect it early enough? Is it spreading? Is chemotherapy necessary? One thing they probably aren’t thinking about is whether they will experience hearing loss as a side effect of their chemotherapy treatment. When their cancer is in remission, they may experience hearing loss symptoms despite having healthy hearing before treatment.
Shocking results from a recent study
In 2005, researchers at Oregon Health and Science University performed a study on 67 patients who were undergoing chemotherapy treatments. The participants, ranging from 8 months to age 23, each completed a hearing test prior to beginning treatment. After treatment, the same participants took a second hearing test.
The study found a staggering 61% of participants had lost some degree of hearing after treatment.
Contribute to the research
Right now, hearing loss isn’t part of the standard discussion when a patient is preparing to undergo chemotherapy treatment. Yet encouraging patients to take a hearing test before and after treatment will help determine how to mitigate or prevent it. Further research may shed light on whether an individual will experience hearing loss by undergoing various cancer treatments.
Why chemotherapy causes hearing loss
For many, chemotherapy is the only viable option to survive cancer, and they are grateful to have it. More people are surviving cancer because of it, but when undergoing chemotherapy, you are putting toxins in your body that you normally wouldn’t.
Doctors use chemotherapy to “poison” cancer cells while attempting to leave healthy cells undamaged. Unfortunately, this isn’t fully possible with current chemotherapy treatments. That’s why people feel sick after receiving chemotherapy. It’s not cancer that makes them feel nauseated, fatigued, and achy. It’s the toxins.
Many platinum-based chemotherapy drugs, including cisplatin and carboplatin, cause ototoxicity. This condition damages the tiny hair cells in the inner ear that vibrate when you hear sounds. Ototoxicity causes progressive, irreversible hearing loss.
The other toxins in chemotherapy drugs include:
- Lead, which causes cognitive problems in children
- Mercury, which causes insanity after prolonged exposure
- Crystalline silica, which causes lung disease when inhaled
- Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which can cause melanomas and several forms of cancer
These and other less familiar toxins in chemotherapy likely cause hearing loss. Once these toxins damage your hearing, the process cannot be reversed. It can only be mitigated through treatment.
As we develop better cancer treatments and more people survive the disease, it’s time to focus on the quality of life people lead after cancer. Hearing is a major factor affecting an individual’s quality of life.
What you should do
If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, request a hearing test before and after you start chemotherapy. This will help researchers confirm a link to chemotherapy and determine whether treatment length and dosages are factors.
If you received chemotherapy treatment in the past and are experiencing any of the following symptoms, you should schedule a hearing test with a hearing specialist as soon as possible.
- You think people are mumbling or talking softly.
- You hear a ringing, buzzing, or another persistent sound in your ears.
- Your loved ones are frustrated because you frequently ask others to repeat themselves or speak louder.
- You’re not getting out as much, and you feel isolated.
- Friends aren’t calling you because you have trouble hearing them on the phone.
- Family members say they’ve told you something important, but you don’t remember.
- You’re getting paranoid about what people are saying behind your back because you can’t hear what they’re saying.
Regardless of age, these are signs you need to get tested. If you are experiencing hearing loss, there are very promising treatments your hearing specialist can recommend.
There’s no reason to suffer from untreated hearing loss and the lower quality of life that comes with it. Get your hearing tested. Ask about potential treatments, and keep doing the things you enjoy with improved hearing.