Cancer treatments and hearing loss

Receiving a diagnosis of cancer is a life-changing experience. Fear and uncertainty are natural reactions, with complex plans for treatment following extensive diagnostic work. Treatments can be highly aggressive, ranging from surgery to radiation to chemotherapy. A patient’s options may produce life-saving results, although many have side effects and risks of their own. A link exists between cancer treatments and hearing loss and other ear damage.

Chemotherapy may utilize many different drugs, depending on the type and location of the tumor or cancerous cells. Platinum plays a key role in several major medications. Drugs like cisplatin and carboplatin are well known for their toxicity to the ears. Several other types of drugs, such as methotrexate and nitrogen mustard, also may be damaging to parts of the ear. When chemicals are introduced to the body through the bloodstream or digestive tract, they cannot necessarily be sent only to the site where they are needed. An agent that can destroy cancer cells may also affect normal tissue. The ears are not immune, and typically both are affected. Hearing loss and/or tinnitus may result.

Radiation therapy of the head or neck may also adversely affect ear function. This may take the form of irreversible inner ear damage (sensory loss of hearing) or Eustachian tube dysfunction, which may be treatable. Radiation may only effect one ear.

Effects of damage from cancer treatments include impaired balance, impaired hearing, increased risk of poor communication and social isolation. Employment may be put at risk from untreated hearing loss. Quality of life suffers greatly with these developing problems. Patients undergoing these therapies should have their hearing and balance function monitored, particularly if they suspect changes in function. Hearing aids, as well as augmentative listening products and strategies, may help these patients with communication. Balance therapy may aid in restoring balance function lost to aggressive treatment.

If you or someone you know is facing these treatments, be aware of possible risks to the ears, and do not hesitate to ask for answers or monitoring. The link between cancer treatments and hearing loss is well established, yet not widely known outside of the hearing healthcare community. Call us for more information. We want to keep you on a Clear Path to good hearing and ear health.