19 April 2011

Radiation therapy for head and neck cancer often results in poorer hearing

Nearly three quarters of those who underwent radiation therapy for head and neck cancer experienced a hearing loss, a study shows.

Patients who undergo radiation therapy for head and neck cancer appear more likely to experience hearing loss and to be more disabled by its effects than those who do not receive such treatment. These are the findings of a report in the November 2010 issue of Archives of Otolaryngology - Head & Neck Surgery.

Radiation therapy is increasingly being used on head and neck tumours, and close to 100% of the radiation delivered may reach the structures of the auditory system, the authors write.

Hearing loss often detected

The authors studied 282 individuals, including 141 who had undergone radiation therapy for head and neck tumours and 141 control subjects who had never undergone a treatment that placed their hearing at risk. All participants underwent hearing evaluations and completed questionnaires regarding how any hearing loss they had experienced was affecting their lives.

Hearing loss was detected in 102 (72.3%) of the participants who were exposed to radiation therapy and 69 (48.9%) of those in the control group. Severe or profound hearing loss occurred in 6.4% of right ears and 8.5% of left ears in the radiation-treated group, as compared with 0.7% in the right ears and 1.4% in the left ears of control group participants.

Participants in the radiation treatment group were more likely to be severely impaired by hearing loss (19.1%, vs. 2.8% in the control group). "This indicates that, when present, hearing losses were substantially greater and more incapacitating after the radiotherapy," the authors write.

Common type of cancer

Head and neck cancer is said to be the sixth most common type of cancer worldwide.

Treatment methods for head and neck cancer include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy, either alone or in combination. Choice of treatment depends on factors such as size and location of the tumour, disease stage, the patient's condition and whether the cancer can be cured. Any of these treatment methods may affect the auditory system and cause temporary or permanent hearing loss.

Sources: EurekAlert and www.genengnews.com

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