Hearing loss appears 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 cancers.

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

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

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

“Our study is the first to show that hearing loss and tinnitus are common problems in survivors of the four most common cancers,” UCSF professor Steven W. Cheung said in the report.

The platinum drugs used to treat testicular and head and neck cancers were previously known to cause hearing loss, but the study found that another class of chemotherapy drugs, called taxanes, also caused damage.

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

Study participants with hearing loss reported impairment during routine activities such as listening to television and talking to 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 people often underestimate hearing problems, our findings indicate that cancer survivors should have their hearing tested,” wrote corresponding author Christine Miaskowski.

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