Cancer Treatment - A guide to Hearing Loss

Chemotherapy and radiotherapy have proved to be highly successful in the fight against cancer. These life saving treatments use powerful cytotoxic drugs to destroy cancer cells and so prevent any further spread. However, they are not without their risks. Large doses are required to kill off cancer cells and whilst these drugs do so fairly effectively they also kill healthy cells as well.

This is a physically and emotionally draining form of treatment which also has a range of side effects. All drugs have side effects which range from relatively mild through to the more severe and cancer drugs are no different.

One major side effect of cytotoxic drugs is hearing loss. The main group of drugs responsible for this are Cisplatin, Carboplatin and Oxaliplatin. Carboplatin is less likely to cause damage than the other two but they all damage the inner ear and cause hearing loss, which in many cases is permanent.

Cytotoxic drugs are often combined with other drugs which will affect the degree of hearing loss experienced by you. It depends upon the combinations of drugs and some will have greater impact upon your hearing than others. Speak to your doctor or cancer specialist if you notice the following symptoms:

  • Unsteady balance
  • Find it difficult to hear
  • Develop tinnitus

What is the effect of these drugs on the ear?

These and other ototoxic drugs such as aspirin, antibiotics and diuretics can affect the inner ear in a variety of ways. They damage fine hair cells within the cochlea and/or the auditory nerve which help to convert sound waves into electrical signals which are then interpreted by the brain. They can affect the balance mechanism in the inner ear which causes dizziness and unsteadiness.

And, they can also trigger the development of tinnitus which is a most distressing condition.

This type of damage is classed as sensorineural hearing loss and cannot be reversed. But research is being carried out into this type of hearing loss so this situation may change in the future.

Hearing Loss

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