Treatment for cancer is a difficult time for patients and their families. While there are significant benefits of chemotherapy in treating and managing many types of cancers, some of the negative side effects may not always be so obvious. One of the potential negative effects of chemotherapy that you may not be aware of is hearing loss. Hearing loss caused by chemotherapy is generally considered a type of sudden hearing loss, so monitoring hearing before and after treatment with hearing tests is important.
How are chemotherapy and hearing loss connected?
Hearing loss as a potential side effect of chemotherapy is more likely with chemotherapies that fall into the category of platinum-based drugs, such as cisplatin or carboplatin. Cisplatin therapy is used in a variety of treatment protocols, but it is most commonly used in gynecological (ovarian and cervical) and head and neck cancers. In addition to cisplatin, there are reports of hearing loss with some immune-targeted melanoma therapies. The way chemotherapy causes hearing loss is complex, but ultimately it causes permanent damage to the inner ear cells responsible for hearing. Importantly, hearing loss often affects high-pitched hearing, which has little impact on your daily hearing needs.
Hearing loss does not always occur from chemotherapy
There are certain factors that may increase the risk of hearing loss, and if you are scheduled to get the types of therapies mentioned, it is important that you discuss risk factors for chemotherapy-induced hearing loss with your oncology team.
How will I know if my hearing is affected by chemotherapy?
Symptoms of hearing loss may be accompanied by a ringing in the ears, or tinnitus. One of the most reliable ways to know if your hearing has been affected by chemotherapy is to get your hearing tested with an audiologist or ear, nose, and throat physician (otologist). It is important to have your hearing tested before and after chemotherapy; the status of your hearing before treatment will serve as a baseline, so that any changes can be identified in follow-up testing.
Identifying hearing loss with chemotherapy is challenging, because people have so many things to consider during the planning of treatment, and baseline hearing tests can be an afterthought. Similarly