According to a recent report into the after affects of radiation therapy treatment for head and neck cancer, patients appear to more likely to experience hearing loss and become more disabled by its effects than those who do not receive treatment.
Radiation therapy, which may reach the structures of the auditory system, is increasingly being used on head and neck tumours, the sixth most common type of cancer worldwide, and could cause temporary or permanent hearing loss.
Participants in a radiation treatment group were more likely to be severely impaired by hearing loss which was mostly sensorineural, i.e. disorders or hearing damage involving the nerves or the inner ear, as opposed to conductive, i.e. interference in sound transmission, usually involving the outer or middle ear.
Severe or profound hearing loss occurred in 6.4 percent of right ears and 8.5 percent of left ears in the radiation-treated group, as compared with 0.7 percent in the right ears and 1.4 percent in the left ears of control group participants.
Similarities to those suffering noise induced hearing loss were observed with the study participants. Those individuals whose hearing loss was left untreated were more likely to feel lonely, depressed, worried, anxious or paranoid. They engaged in fewer social activities and were less able to process information about their environment.
The report suggests that hearing loss, whether as a result of treatment therapy, excessive workplace noise levels leading to industry deafness or accompanying the aging process, is still not given greater recognition or value, and is commonly the reason it is not always treated as a health abnormality.
The study concluded that hearing impairment, however caused, remains one of the biggest chronic problems amongst the elderly population and those suffering with cancer are even more affected. The growing concern for the quality of life of patients undergoing cancer treatment, together with determining the occurrence and extent of hearing loss should form part of ongoing investigations into enabling improved rehabilitation.