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
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
• 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
• 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.
Chemotherapy drugs aren’t the only types of substances that can be ototoxic or known to cause hearing
loss, balance problems, or buzzing in the ears. Some solvents, metals, and other chemicals or materials
found in the work environment or at home may also pose a risk. For example:
• Mercury and lead
• Carbon disulfide, found in pesticides
• Aspirin and other selected medicines
• Toluene, found in paints, adhesives, and more
• Benzene, found in cigarette smoke, plastics, and more
• Trichloroethylene, found in paints, pesticides, cleaners, and more
What can you do? Limit your exposure to ototoxins and other hazardous chemicals, and remember to
schedule regular hearing checkups — at least once a year. If you’re wondering whether the levels of
ototoxic chemicals you’re exposed to at work, home, or play are harmful, call us. We can help!
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National Institutes of Health | National Cancer Institute. Cancer Statistics.
https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/understanding/statistics. Accessed Feb. 16, 2018. Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention. Information for Health Care Providers.
https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/preventinfections/providers.htm. Jan. 31, 2018.
The Hearing Journal. Chemo-induced Hearing Loss: Help Patients Cope with the Aural Effects of Cancer
lp_Patients_Cope.1.aspx. Accessed Jan. 30, 2018.
National Institutes of Health/U.S. National Library of Medicine. Comprehensive Audiometric Analysis
of Hearing Impairment and Tinnitus After Cisplatin-Based Chemotherapy in Survivors of Adult-Onset
Cancer. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27354478. Accessed Jan. 31, 2018.
Cancer Treatment Centers of America. Hearing loss: The Little-Known Side
Effect of Some Chemotherapy Drugs. https://www.cancercenter.com/discussions/blog/hearing-loss-thelittle-known-side-effect-of-some-chemotherapy-drugs.
Accessed Jan. 30, 2018. Vestibular Disorders
Association. Ototoxicity. http://vestibular.org/ototoxicity. Accessed Feb. 16, 2018. American SpeechLanguage-Hearing
Association. Chemical Exposure Effects on Hearing and Balance.
http://www.asha.org/uploadedFiles/AIS-Chemical-Exposure-Effects-Hearing-Balance.pdf. Accessed Feb.
16, 2018. Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. Health and Safety Report: Chemicals
and Noise — A Hazardous Combination.
Feb. 16, 2018