Woman going through chemo experiencing hearing loss

Cancer patients have a lot on their minds the first few months after diagnosis. Was it caught early enough? Is it spreading? Is chemo necessary? One thing they probably aren’t thinking about is whether they will have hearing loss. But after treatment, when the cancer is in remission, they may discover an unpleasant and unexpected side effect of chemo.

Shocking Results from a Recent Study on Chemo

Researchers at Oregon Health and Science University performed a study on 67 patients who were undergoing chemo treatments. The participants, ranging from 8 months to 23 years old took a hearing test prior to beginning their treatment. After treatment, the same participants had a second hearing test.

While further studies are needed to confirm this link, a staggering 91% of the participants had lost some of their hearing after the treatment.

Further Research Needed to Confirm a Connection

Right now hearing loss isn’t part of the standard discussion when a patient is preparing to undergo treatment. Yet encouraging patients to get a before and after hearing test would help make this connection clearer to researchers and help them determine how to mitigate or prevent it. Further research may shed light on how much hearing a person stands to lose with various types or lengths of treatment.

Why Chemo May Cause Hearing Loss

For many, chemo is the only viable option to survive and we’re grateful to have it. More people are surviving cancer because of it. But when undergoing chemo, you are putting toxins in the body that you would normally avoid.

Doctors use chemotherapy to “poison” cancer cells while attempting to leave healthy cells alone. Unfortunately, this isn’t fully possible with current treatments. That’s why people feel so sick when they’re receiving chemo. It’s not the cancer making them feel nauseated, fatigued, and achy; it’s the toxins.

Many of these toxins you’ve probably heard of such as:

  • Carbon Monoxide, which can kill a person if it builds up in a car, garage or home.
  • Lead, which is known to cause cognitive problems in children
  • Mercury, which causes insanity with prolonged exposure

These combined with many other less familiar toxins in chemo likely cause the hearing loss. Once a person’s hearing is damaged by these toxins, it cannot be reversed. It can only be treated.

As we develop better cancer treatments and more people survive, it’s time to focus on the quality of life people lead after cancer. Hearing is a big factor in a person’s quality of life.

What You Should Do

If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, request a hearing test before and after you start the first round. This will help researchers confirm a link to chemo and determine whether the length and dosages of treatments are a factor.

If you had cancer treatment years ago, and are experiencing any of these symptoms, get a hearing test:

  • You think people are mumbling or low-talking
  • You have a ringing, buzzing or other persistent sound in your ear
  • You and those around your commonly get frustrated when you ask people to repeat or speak up
  • You’re not getting out as much and feel isolated
  • People aren’t calling you as much because you have trouble hearing on the phone
  • People say they told you something important, but you don’t remember.
  • You’re getting paranoid about what people are saying behind your back, because you can’t hear as well.

Regardless of age, these are common signs you need to get tested. If it turns out you have hearing loss, there are very promising treatments you’ll want to discuss with a hearing specialist.

As we approach 2020, there’s no reason to suffer with hearing loss and the lower quality of life often associated with it. Get tested. Find out about treatments. And keep doing the things you love to do with better hearing.