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Study: Hearing loss and tinnitus are common after chemo

hearing loss and tinnitus after chemo
In July 2022, the University of California, San Francisco released a groundbreaking study published in the BMJ Supportive & Palliative Care that found hearing loss and tinnitus are common after chemotherapy. Specifically, the trend applied to adult survivors of some of the most common types of cancer (gastrointestinal, gynecologic, lung, and/or breast cancer) who were treated with chemo.

Hearing Loss and Tinnitus are Common After Chemo

Discovering that hearing loss and tinnitus are common after chemo is significant.

“Our study is the first to demonstrate that hearing loss and tinnitus are highly prevalent problems in survivors of the four most common types of cancer,” said Dr. Steven Cheung, one of authors of the UCSF study.

Prior to this study, research was conducted on hearing loss caused by platinum drugs in adults with head and neck cancers and testicular cancer.  However, the UCSF study demonstrated that taxanes — a different class of medication commonly used for chemotherapy — can also cause higher rates of tinnitus and hearing loss.

The UCSF study consisted of 273 survivors of cancer with an average age of 61. Fifty percent of study participants who underwent chemotherapy had hearing loss approximately five years post-treatment. In addition, over 35 percent of participants reported higher rates of tinnitus (ringing in the ear).

Other factors were measured, such as participants’ quality of life as a result of their hearing concerns. Participants with hearing loss reported increased difficulty with activities like listening to the radio, hearing the TV, and talking to others, especially in noisy environments, said impairment with these activities was in the moderate to severe range. Participants who experienced tinnitus said that it affected their mood, perception of quality of life (i.e. happiness with life), difficulty concentrating and/or relaxing, and their sleep.

Read more: Watch: Understanding Tinnitus with Dr. Ben, Aud. 

Hearing Loss and Hearing Aids

Many study participants (31 percent) didn’t even recognize they had hearing loss until it was tested. Fortunately, the type and severity of hearing loss caused by these medications can be aided with hearing aids. The study reported that 17 percent of participants with hearing loss utilized hearing aids.

Read more: Phonak Hearing aids and Solutions

Increasing Awareness

Cancer and chemotherapy are sadly common. In fact, CA: A Journal for Clinicians article estimated that 1.9 million people will be diagnosed with cancer in 2022. What that means is that most, if not all, of these people are at risk for hearing loss or tinnitus based on this study’s findings.

Hopefully this study will increase hearing loss awareness, particularly for people in healthcare. This study also shows that medications and treatments have implications beyond the disease they are treating. This type of research is how medicine and science advance.

Read more: Over-the-counter painkillers linked to risk of tinnitus

General Takeaways

There are multiple takeaways from this study.

  • Be aware that some medications, medical treatments, and medical conditions can potentially cause hearing loss and other hearing issues such as tinnitus.
  • Hearing loss and tinnitus should be mentioned, addressed, and monitored in chemotherapy patients as well as before and after as it is not currently part of routine monitoring in adults.
  • Audiologists and other hearing professionals should also be consulted, especially if hearing loss and/or tinnitus is found in patients.
  • Be sure to talk to your healthcare provider about these concerns when discussing your conditions and treatment plans, especially if you notice any changes in your hearing.
  • Hearing loss can be overlooked and not recognized until a hearing test is conducted. Even if you feel something is only slightly off, it can’t hurt to get tested.
  • More research is needed to understand the implications of other medications on hearing loss and hearing issues.
  • Medical providers should stay up to date and be aware of these types of studies and literature.

If you are a health care provider providing treatment for cancer and utilizing chemotherapy, be sure to share this information with your patients and colleagues. Awareness is the first step to helping catch these concerns early on.

If you’re a patient receiving chemotherapy or have received it in the past, don’t be afraid to start the conversation with your healthcare provider or consult a hearing professional to be evaluated for hearing loss.

Author Details
Hi, my name is Danielle! I’m an Psy.D. graduate psychology student with an immense passion for writing and helping and inspiring others in any way I can. I am an anti-bullying and mental health advocate, blogger, and public speaker through my personal blog and social media campaign, “Compassionately Inspired”. I was born with a severe conductive hearing loss and hope to inspire others both in the hard of hearing and deaf community as well as the hearing community. “Everybody has a story”; that’s my motto and I hope my stories inspire you in one way or another.