Hearing loss revealed to be very common in cancer survivors

Scientists in San Francisco have discovered for the first time that hearing loss and tinnitus are extremely common in survivors of the four most common types of cancer.

In the findings, published this week, UCSF researchers found that more than half of the survivors in the study who had undergone chemotherapy suffered significant hearing problems.

Currently adults undergoing treatment for the most common types of cancer — breast, gastrointestinal, gynecologic or lung cancer — do not routinely undergo hearing tests. The authors of the study suggest that this needs to change.

Of the 273 cancer survivors in the study who had completed cancer treatment around 5 years earlier, more than 50% experienced significant hearing loss and 35% reported tinnitus — a ringing or buzzing in the ears.

“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 UCSF professor Steven W. Cheung in the report.

It was previously known that the platinum drugs used in the treatment of testicular and head and neck cancer led to hearing loss, but the study found that another class of chemotherapy drugs called taxanes also causes damage.

“Given that platinum and taxane-containing chemotherapy regimens are the ones most commonly used to treat the majority of cancers, these findings have huge implications for clinicians who treat cancer patients, as well as for cancer survivors,” Cheung wrote.

Participants in the study with hearing loss reported impairment during routine activities like listening to the television and talking with family and in restaurants. Those with tinnitus said the problem affected their ability to relax, concentrate, sleep and enjoy life.

The study found that only 17% of participants wore hearing aids, and urged clinicians to refer all cancer survivors for hearing tests.

“While individuals often underestimate hearing problems, our findings point to the need for cancer survivors to have their hearing tested,” wrote corresponding author Christine Miaskowski.

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