Does Chemotherapy Make You Lose Hearing?

Chemotherapy, a powerful tool in the fight against cancer, is known for its ability to destroy cancer cells and halt their growth. However, like all potent treatments, it comes with a range of side effects. While most are familiar with common repercussions like hair loss or fatigue, there’s a lesser-known potential consequence that warrants attention: hearing loss. 

Recent studies and patient reports have illuminated the possibility of chemotherapy affecting auditory functions. This introduces a crucial question for patients and medical practitioners alike: Does chemotherapy lead to hearing loss? As we dive deeper into the subject, we’ll explore the intricate relationship between this life-saving treatment and its potential auditory implications, aiming to shed light on a topic that remains on the periphery of cancer care discussions.

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 your 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. 

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