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Hearing Loss and Mesothelioma Treatment

Hearing loss, dizziness, and ringing in the ears are not symptoms typically associated with mesothelioma. However, these symptoms can be caused by the cancer’s most common treatment. Chemotherapy drugs that contain platinum, including some of the most effective drugs mesothelioma treatment, can cause inner ear and nerve damage.

This damage could cause non-reversible hearing loss or tinnitus. Radiation therapy may also cause ear damage. Talk to your oncologist before beginning treatments to find out how to minimize hearing loss and related damage.

Mesothelioma Therapies

Malignant mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer that originates in the tissue that lines the body’s organs. This tissue lining is known as the mesothelium. Mesothelioma is almost exclusively caused by asbestos exposure. Even though it is rare, this cancer has a huge impact on those affected. The most common form of mesothelioma affects the tissue around the lungs. This type is known as pleural mesothelioma.Another tyype of mesothelioma is peritoneal mesothelioma,  a cancer of the tissue around the abdominal organs.

A diagnosis of mesothelioma often comes with a poor prognosis. A cure, or even remission, is rarely possible. However, treatments can help remove cancerous tissue, slow the disease’s progression, extend a patient’s life, and provide relief from symptoms. The most common treatments for mesothelioma are combinations of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.

Chemotherapy is one of the most commonly used treatments for mesothelioma. In this treatment, patients receive intravenous drugs that attack and kill cancer cells. Because these drugs target all cells that grow rapidly, many healthy cells are also damaged in the process. The damage to healthy cells can lead to a number of side effects. The most common side effects are nausea and hair loss. However, some patients experience other less common side effects like hearing loss.

Radiation therapy can also be used to destroy cancer cells. A more targeted approach to cancer treatment, radiation uses a beam of high-energy particles directed at the tumor site. Although directed, this therapy can also damage healthy tissue. The radiation must pass through skin, other tissues, and organs to reach the cancerous cells. Skin damage and fatigue are common side effects. However, depending on the tumor location, hearing loss can also be an issue.

Chemotherapy and Ototoxicity

Ototoxicity is the damage drugs cause to parts of the inner ear related to hearing and balance. This damage can cause mild to severe hearing loss. Ototoxicity can also cause issues with balance, which is regulated by the inner ear, as well as tinnitus, which is ringing in the ears.

There are many drugs considered ototoxic, meaning they can cause ear and nerve damage that impacts hearing. For mesothelioma patients undergoing chemotherapy, cisplatin and carboplatin are the drugs most likely to cause ototoxicity. These are also two of the most common chemotherapy drugs used for mesothelioma. Symptoms of ototoxicity include:

  • Dizziness
  • Loss of balance
  • Diminished hearing or loss of hearing
  • Ringing or buzzing sound in the ears

Cisplatin and carboplatin contain platinum, an ingredient that causes the symptoms of ototoxicity. This heavy metal can damage the protective myelin sheaths that surround nerve endings. Platinum also damages exposed nerve parts, including the fine endings. Approximately 20 percent of patients treated with a platinum-based chemotherapy drug will suffer some degree of hearing loss.

Radiation and Hearing Loss

Damage resulting in hearing loss is less commonly caused by radiation. However, it can be a serious issue for anyone receiving radiation for head and neck cancers. In these cases, the proximity of the radiation can damage the ear or nerves responsible for heating. In addition to inner ear damage, radiation may cause inflammation, stiffness in ear bones, or fluid accumulation. Radiation damage can be a concern for anyone with metastatic mesothelioma that has spread to the head or neck.

Preventing Damage and Hearing Problems

Ear and nerve damage that leads to hearing loss or tinnitus is usually permanent. Damage is cumulative and can progress slowly, making it difficult to notice until it becomes moderate or severe. While it may not be preventable in every case, catching it early may allow a drug switch to minimize the effect.

If you are treated with platinum-based drugs, be aware of your hearing and note any ringing sounds. If you notice a change in your hearing, let your doctor or oncologist know right away. You can also request a baseline hearing test before treatment and periodic follow-up tests to determine if there is damage.

Another way to minimize or prevent hearing loss with chemotherapy is to take an additional drug. Researchers are developing drugs that stop small nerve damage caused by platinum drugs. These are new drugs however, and they may cause additional side effects.

Coping with Hearing Loss or Tinnitus

It is important to balance the risks and benefits of any medical treatment. If you are being treated for mesothelioma, you may choose aggressive treatment and the possible side effects like hearing loss and tinnitus. If you do experience permanent damage, you can learn to cope.

For example, poor health can worsen tinnitus. Therefore, it is important to eat a balanced diet, be active, get enough rest, and manage stress. Also, a hearing aid may help with hearing loss. Let loved ones know about your limitations so they can take steps to include you in conversations.

Page Edited by Dave Foster

Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available. Connect with Patient Advocate Dave Foster

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