Chemotherapy Drugs: A Threat to Healthy Hearing?

With 14 million new cases worldwide in 2012 alone and an expected 21 million in 2030, cancer touches nearly everyone personally or through a loved one, keeping the push for new treatments, cures, and prevention strategies top of mind.

Across the U.S., some 650,000 cancer patients undergo chemotherapy in outpatient oncology clinics every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Though potentially lifesaving, some chemotherapy drugs can lead to complications such as permanent and possibly total hearing loss.

In the January 2018 Hearing Journal article, “Chemo-Induced Hearing Loss: Help Patients Cope With the Aural Effects of Cancer Treatment,” a reported half to two-thirds of cancer survivors who had been treated with selected platinum-based chemotherapy medications such as cisplatin and carboplatin have permanent hearing loss potentially caused by damage to hair cells or cilia in the inner ear.

The hearing loss often begins in the higher-frequency sounds and may eventually affect the lower frequencies as chemotherapy continues. This warrants monitoring patients’ hearing during treatment, when adjustments in medications may be considered; a medically allowable dosage reduction might help limit damage to the hearing system. A baseline hearing test before treatment is also important.

Both cisplatin and carboplatin, per Julian Schink, M.D., of Cancer Treatment Centers of America, are additionally linked to tinnitus, a potentially debilitating condition characterized by buzzing, humming, or ringing in the ears.

Drug developers are seeking ways to lessen cisplatin ototoxicity — especially in relation to younger cancer patients, who are at greater risk — with a few potential treatments in various stages of trial or other advancement.

Meanwhile, collaboration between hearing professionals and other health care providers can prove crucial to curbing hearing damage, with interventions such as monitoring for potential hearing changes and:

  • Educating patients on hearing protection, reduction or elimination of noise exposure, avoidance of toxins including other toxic medications, and additional steps to help prevent further hearing impairment
  • Educating physicians about the causes and effects of ototoxicity
  • Encouraging overall wellness to help decrease the risk of diabetes and other conditions also associated with hearing loss
  • Providing communication counseling and solutions such as hearing aids, cochlear implants, and other assistive devices
  • Coaching patients to speak up about their hearing needs when in listening situations they find challenging, whether at home, their doctor’s office, noisy restaurants, or elsewhere

 
Are you receiving chemotherapy and have questions about your hearing health? Please contact us. We’re here to support you, including answering your questions and addressing any concerns.