Hearing aid implants to improve life of cancer patients

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 February, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 February, 2004, 12:00am

More cancer patients who suffer hearing impairment caused by radiation treatment will be given hearing aid implants, the Chinese University says.

Gordon Soo, honorary clinical assistant professor of the university's division of otorhinolaryngology, estimated that 60 per cent of nasopharyngeal cancer patients who received radiotherapy suffered from varying degrees of hearing loss due to damage to the eardrum from high radiation exposure.

'Radiation therapy has proved highly successful in curing nasopharyngeal cancer but among its frequent side effects is damage to the delicate structures of the ear,' Dr Soo said.

Prince of Wales Hospital, the university's teaching centre, is the only local hospital so far to use the latest hearing implant technology on the nasopharyngeal cancer patients.

The hospital has carried out the implant on four patients since 2002 and it plans to extend the service to more patients in future. But Dr Soo said the exact number would depend on the level of extra internal university funding, to be decided shortly. The university has already set aside funding for hearing aid operations on 16 nasopharyngeal patients. The implants cost about $35,000.

Dr Soo said the university would seek to help more patients, even after the quota was filled, as the operation significantly improved quality of life and ability to function normally in the workplace.

Damage to the outer ear canal and eardrum made the conventional external hearing aids ineffective.

He said the operation involved implanting a 'bone-anchored hearing aid' fixed to the skull by a tiny titanium screw. The device bypassed the outer ear canal and eardrum as it amplified sounds sent through the screw to the inner ear structure and the brain's auditory nerves, Dr Soo said.

The implant would benefit most patients except those whose inner ear structure had also been seriously damaged, he added.

Dr Soo said the technology had been used in the hospital on other patients with hearing impairments since 1996 but doctors later came to realise it would also benefit nasopharyngeal cancer patients.

Hong Kong had 1,120 new cases of nasopharyngeal cancer in 2000, the latest available figure, compared with 13,220 such cases in Guangdong.