Mimi Murphy's Medical Breakthroughs: Protecting Hearing from Chemo

Medical Breakthroughs
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Chemotherapy is meant to help a person live longer, but it can also make quality of life worse. For some, it can even cause hearing loss. Now, doctors are able to treat cancer and leave a person's hearing alone.

Kevin Douglass was treated for brain cancer when he was 12. Chemotherapy killed the cancer, but it also took part of his hearing.

"I just woke up one morning, suddenly there was this ringing in my ears, it was really weird," he tells Ivanhoe.

Douglass learned to read lips, and then he went on to hearing aids. "I can't talk on the phone with my hearing aids in my ears, so I have to take them out, at the same time I can't read lips over the phone," he says.

The problem is certain chemotherapies damage the cells of the cochlea that are responsible for high-pitched sounds. Now doctors say the drug sodium thiosulfate can stop the damage. It's given after chemo.

"Before we started using sodium thiosulfate in brain tumor patients, about half of the patients required hearing aids," says neurosurgeon Edward Neuwelt, M.D., of Oregon Health & Science University and Portland VA Medical Center.

Now Dr. Neuwelt says that number is down to less than 5 percent.

Signe Brunner is one of the patients to benefit from the drug. Listening is part of her job as a mental health counselor. She says, "The fact that I didn't lose my hearing was just a great miracle to me."

A miracle more people will experience if the studies continue to show success.

Doctors are now starting to test the drug in children, and in patients with several types of cancers. The manufacturer of the drug hopes to have it on the market in two to three years.

If you would like more information, please contact:

Jim Newman
Oregon Health Sciences University
3181 S.W. Sam Jackson Park Road L217
Portland, OR 97201-3098
(503) 494-8231