Cancer Treatment and Hearing Loss

October 19, 2021


Every year, October is recognized as Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Across the world, people use this time to raise awareness about breast cancer and the potentially devastating impact it can have.


Every year, October is recognized as Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Across the world, people use this time to raise awareness about breast cancer and the potentially devastating impact it can have.

As of January 2021, it’s estimated that over 3.8 million women in the United States have a history of breast cancer. This includes survivors as well as women currently undergoing treatment. It is the most commonly diagnosed form of cancer in American women.

If you, or someone you know, is fighting breast cancer, it’s likely you’ve explored treatment options. For many, chemotherapy proves to be a life-saving treatment. However, it can come with serious side effects. These side effects can even extend to your hearing. We’re taking a closer look at cancer treatment and hearing loss.

Cancer Treatment and Hearing Loss – What’s the Connection?

Typically, cancer treatment depends on three options: radiation, surgery, and chemotherapy. Often, these are performed in conjunction. For example, someone may have surgery, followed by a course of radiation and chemotherapy.

Depending on the location of the cancer, all three options can potentially damage your hearing. Let’s explore how.


If you have a cancer that requires surgical intervention in yo7ur ear, brain or auditory nerve, hearing problems are a potential complication. The process of removing the cancerous tumor could potentially damage your ear.


Treatment with radiation involves high-energy waves (or particles) being used to damage or destroy cancer cells. If you require radiation in your head or neck area, it could potentially result in 2 types of hearing loss: sensorineural or conductive hearing loss.

Radiation can cause sensorineural hearing loss if it damages the inner ear or auditory nerve. The Journal of Neurologic Surgery notes, in a 2019 article, that higher doses of radiation increase the likelihood of hearing loss.

Conductive hearing loss can be a complication from radiation treatment. The Journal of Neurologic Surgery reports this is due to the ear canal being narrowed, thickening of the eardrum, or other ear changes. It further highlights that almost half of the people who receive radiation treatment experience a condition called otitis media with effusion (OME).

Chemotherapy and Hearing Loss

The National Cancer Institute defines chemotherapy as: “Treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. Chemotherapy may be given by mouth, injection, or infusion, or on the skin, depending on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.”

In some cases, the chemicals that are used in chemotherapy are considered ototoxic. Ototoxic literally means “toxic to your ear.” These toxic chemicals can unfortunately result in hearing loss.

A review article in Cancer Chemotherapy and Pharmacology states: “Not only hearing loss, but also tinnitus and imbalance are common in patients who receive platinum-based chemotherapy, and can cause debilitating effects upon quality of life.”

Understanding the Risks

Cancer is often a life-threatening disease. That’s why your medical practitioners will throw everything they have at it. Powerful treatments can cause significant side effects, including hearing loss, but they can save your life.

Understanding the risks of treatment is important. This will enable you to assess if you believe the risk is worth it. We advise always working with your medical practitioners to determine the most appropriate treatment plan for you.

If you know that you are embarking on a treatment plan, we recommend getting your hearing checked. By establishing your baseline hearing, your hearing healthcare specialists can more easily identify changes to your hearing.

Need Help? Have a Question?

If you would like to speak with one of our experienced hearing care professionals, please get in touch. At Audiology Professionals, we are here to help you stay on top of your hearing healthcare. To book an appointment, call (541) 228-9233. Alternatively, click here to contact us online.

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Audiology Professionals

Audiology Professionals