With October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it’s important to discuss an often-overlooked side-effect of cancer treatments: hearing loss. Cancer alone is a tough opponent and unfortunately chemotherapy can also be damaging to the body.
Ototoxicity is damage to the inner ear hearing system caused by certain drugs and medications. The American-Speech-Language-Hearing-Association (ASHA) has labeled over 200 chemicals and medications as ototoxic. These include everything from antibiotics to diuretics, even regular old Aspirin. Also on the list—radiation and chemotherapy drugs.
Chemotherapy drugs are designed to combat cancerous cells. However, they cause side effects that can damage healthy cells and organs as well. Drugs like cisplatin, carboplatin, and other platinum-based chemotherapy agents are known to be ototoxic; they damage the hair cells in the inner ear which are responsible for hearing. Once these chemotherapy drugs get into the inner ear, the ear has no way to clear them back out. This makes the inner ear particularly susceptible to damage from these drugs.
Damage to the inner ear from ototoxic drugs like chemotherapy can be permanent and may cause problems such as tinnitus, dizziness, and irreversible hearing loss. In fact, chemotherapy ototoxicity has been shown to occur in as many as 50% of patients.
Typically, chemotherapy damages hearing in the high frequencies, making clarity of speech more challenging. There are signs you should watch for that might indicate the onset of hearing loss.
- Sounds are muffled or less obvious
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ear)
- Difficulty hearing in noisy environments
- Asking people to repeat themselves
What Can Chemotherapy Patients Do to Reduce Their Risk of Hearing Loss?
Chemotherapy patients can make sure they are up to speed on the ototoxic effects of some chemotherapy treatments. Otherwise, if they think they may be experiencing hearing loss related to chemotherapy drug regimens, a hearing evaluation is the best next step.
In many cases, a hearing test will detect hearing loss before the patient is even aware of a problem. If caught early, their doctor may be able to prescribe a different medication or discontinue a harmful one. Meanwhile, many patients benefit from hearing devices; these work by amplifying certain sounds to make them clearer. It is important to know the risks of cancer treatments upfront so you can be prepared for any potential side effects, including hearing loss.
Are you experiencing symptoms related to hearing loss? You may benefit from a hearing test. Contact Precision Hearing at 352-765-8008 to schedule a free consultation with the area’s only Board Certified Audiologist. Or, learn more about your hearing health by visiting www.precisionhearingfl.com.
 Rybak, L. P., et al. (2019, November). Cisplatin Ototoxicity and Protection: Clinical and Experimental Studies. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2927105/#__ffn_sectitle