by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
A news item titled “Hearing Loss Common Following Radiation Therapy for Head and Neck Cancer” revealed the shocking fact that people having radiation to their heads or necks were 682% more likely to experience severe hearing loss as compared to those in the control group. (1)
Thus if you want to protect your hearing from the effects of radiation, the answer is simple—don’t get cancer in your head or neck in the first place! Then you won’t need radiation therapy.
Since head and neck cancer is the 6th most common kind of cancer in the world, you might immediately ask, “How in the world do I prevent cancer in my head and neck?”
Actually, it is quite easy to put the odds in your favor. Just don’t smoke or chew tobacco. What the above article doesn’t mention is that 85% of all head and neck cancers are linked to tobacco use, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). (2)
Thus, just by not smoking/chewing tobacco, you can enormously reduce your odds of getting head or neck cancer. And you can reduce your risk even more if you don’t drink alcohol either. The NCI further explains, “People who use both tobacco and alcohol are at greater risk for developing these cancers than people who use either tobacco or alcohol alone.” (2)
I have written before about the risks to your ears from drinking alcohol and from smoking. Having radiation on your head or neck just increases the chances ever so much more that you will have a resulting hearing loss, and that the hearing loss will be more severe than it would otherwise be.
When you have radiation on your head or neck, because of the location of your inner ears, it is almost certain that close to 100% of the radiation will reach, and affect, your inner ears. This results in hearing loss. Severe to profound hearing loss occurred 607% (right ears) to 914% (left ears) more frequently in the radiation therapy group than in the control group.
This alone is an excellent reason to give up smoking, if you are a smoker; or to stay away from second-hand smoke, if you are not a smoker; and to watch your consumption of alcohol.
(1) Hearing Loss Common Following Radiation Therapy for Head and Neck Cancer. Nov. 15, 2010. Science Daily.
(2) Head and Neck Cancer: Questions and Answers. 3/9/2005. National Cancer Institute.