Cancer therapies have come a long way over the last few years, but many children are still at risk of the numerous side effects associated with the treatments, including hearing loss and neurocognitive deficits. Research published in JAMA Oncology was the first of its kind to conduct a long-term study of survivors of childhood cancer, following the side effects of their treatment.
Conducted at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, researchers examined the data of 1,520 childhood cancer survivors who took part in the St. Jude Lifetime Cohort Study. From this group:
- 62.2 percent has normal hearing
- 12.5 percent had mild hearing loss
- 23.2 percent has severe hearing loss
The patients received three distinct types of cancer treatments: platinum-based chemotherapy, cranial radiation therapy and treatments that were not considered ototoxic. Among these groups, 34.9 percent, 38.3 percent and 8.8 percent, respectively had severe hearing loss.
Data was collected between 2007 and 2017 with audiologic and neurocognitive testing completed after treatment.
Patients in all three treatment groups were significantly associated with deficits in verbal reasoning, verbal fluency, reading, math and visomotor speed.
“Even patients not exposed to neurotoxic therapies who develop mild hearing deficits can have problems with their neurocognitive skills,” Kevin Krull, Ph.D., co-author of the study explained. “This makes it important to identify these patients early and suggest interventions to help improve their hearing and thus their neurocognitive outcomes.”
In addition, the study found that only 22.7 percent of the childhood cancer survivors with severe hearing loss used a hearing aid or cochlear implant.
While these findings are important, there were a number of limitations with this study. Neurocognitive testing was not completed pretreatment, and there was a lack of data on additional factors that could have impaired hearing, as well as hearing aid use frequency.
The results of this study suggest that severe hearing loss in children who survive cancer is associated with neurocognitive deficits, unrelated to the use of ototoxic treatment. Early screenings to identify and diagnose hearing loss may help decrease the deficits associated with severe hearing loss.
To learn more about the importance of hearing loss detection or to schedule an appointment with an expert, contact Central Florida Hearing Services.