Hearing Loss or Tinnitus May Impact More Than Half of Cancer Survivors

After completing treatment for cancer, the side effects can linger. Survivors may experience issues like peripheral neuropathy, fatigue, hot flashes, and cognitive issues. A new study finds that ear troubles may also be common.

Researchers at the University of California San Francisco recently investigated the prevalence of tinnitus and hearing loss in adult cancer survivors who had undergone several different types of chemotherapy. Their findings, published in the journal BMJ Supportive & Palliative Care, indicate that these issues may impact more than half of such patients.


Dr. Steven W. Cheung, first author and professor of otolaryngology at UCSF, says, “While hearing loss associated with the administration of platinum drugs was reported in adults with testicular and head and neck cancer, 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.”

The four types of cancer included in this study were breast, gastrointestinal, gynecologic, and lung. Overall, 273 survivors of these forms of cancer participated. They had an average age of 61 and had completed treatment about five years prior.


Of this group, more than 50% had significant hearing loss that was confirmed via hearing exam, while more than 35% reported experiencing tinnitus. Those who were impacted by hearing loss said they had moderate to severe difficulty with routine activities like listening to the TV and having conversations. For tinnitus sufferers, there were issues with concentration, relaxation, mood, and sleep.

The authors argue that these findings should spur health care providers to administer hearing exams before, during, and after chemotherapy.

Dr. Christine Miaskowski, senior author from the UCSF School of Nursing, says, “While individuals often underestimate hearing problems, our findings point to the need for cancer survivors to have their hearing tested. Though the type of hearing loss that occurs with platinum and taxane drugs is permanent, patients’ hearing can be improved with the use of a hearing aid. Only 17% of the survivors in our study were using a hearing aid, which suggests that clinicians need to refer survivors for a hearing test on a routine basis.”


If you’re a survivor struggling with these issues, reach out to your doctor to see if they can refer you to a specialist.

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