When undergoing cancer treatment, the principal issue is beating the cancer. Dealing with side effects is just part of that reality.
And in many instances, there are hearing-related challenges to face. Hearing loss, tinnitus, and problems maintaining balance are all common cancer treatment side effects. In some cases they can even be permanent, lingering after the cancer has gone into remission.
The usual tools of cancer treatment— radiation, surgery, and chemotherapy—all can impact hearing health.
Any kind of radiation treatment that needs to be targeted in the head or neck area can adversely affect hearing. Treatment can cause a range of issues, such as a narrowing of the ear canal, thickening of the eardrum, or collection of fluid in the middle ear. In some cases, permanent sensorineural hearing loss can occur when the inner ear or cranial nerve responsible for hearing are damaged.
Surgery to areas around the ear, such as the removal of a tumor, can cause damage to the ear’s apparatus. Such surgeries often require tradeoffs to be made.
Ototoxicity is the development of hearing or balance problems from medication, including cancer treatments. The drug cisplatin, for example, is a chemotherapy medication commonly used to treat head and neck, testicular, ovarian, cervical, breast, and several other cancers and it is known to cause nearly half of patients to suffer hearing-related issues. Damage to the sensory hair cells, which do not regrow, is the mechanism that most commonly leads to hearing loss. Again, tradeoffs have to be made.
A number of other cancer treatment drugs are known to negatively impact hearing as well.
If cancer treatment is on the horizon for your family, don’t be surprised if hearing loss intervention will have to be part of the process as well.