Hearing Loss Can Be Side Effect of Chemotherapy

The side effects of chemotherapy and radiation include fatigue, pain, sores, diarrhea, constipation, etc. However, three important side effects from certain chemotherapy medications that are not mentioned as frequently are temporary/permanent sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL), tinnitus, and loss of balance.

Hearing Loss and Cancer Treatments

Chemotherapy drugs that can impair hearing
Platinum-based chemotherapy medications such as Cisplatin and Carboplatin are the primary drugs that cause ototoxicity. They are used to treat brain, neck, head, lung, bladder and ovarian cancers in adults and brain, bone and liver cancers in children. Ototoxicity means that something toxic is happening to the ear, specifically to the auditory nerve and vestibular system. In other words, Cisplatin and Carboplatin can both cause temporary or permanent hearing loss, depending on the extent of the hearing loss. Other chemotherapy drugs that can cause ototoxicity are Bleomycin, Vincristine, Vinblastin, Bromocriptine, and Methotrexate Nitrogen Mustard.

As chemotherapy treatments are ongoing or if they’ve ended, consult an audiologist who can monitor ototoxic levels, devise a hearing intervention plan, and evaluate you for ototoxic after-effects which can include counseling, rehab, and treatment in the form of hearing aids (which can help 95% of those with hearing loss hear better).

Hearing loss, ototoxicity, and children
A study of children, adolescents, and young adults who underwent chemotherapy and radiation found that 61% experienced significant hearing loss, mostly high frequency hearing loss (HFHL). The sample study is too small to be conclusive but researchers believe this to be well-correlated to the outcome.

High frequency hearing loss (HFHL) is a potentially dangerous condition. If left untreated, there can be:

  • Speech and language development delays
  • Negative cognitive development and learning/comprehension results
  • Impaired psychosocial development

The effect of hearing loss in children
A study of 1,200 children with mild hearing loss indicated that 37% failed at least one educational grade (vs. the 3% average). In addition, these kids also exhibited behavioral problems, fatigue, stress, and self-esteem issues.