SCIENTISTS in Hampshire have today launched a new trial that could revolutionise the effects of chemotherapy for tens of thousands of people battling cancer.
Southampton civil servant Alan Fox is one of the 18,500 cancer patients who develop hearing problems each year during treatment.
But scientists based in the city, working for Cancer Research UK, today began testing to see if high doses of aspirin can prevent permanent hearing loss.
It is understood the drug cisplatin causes the side-effects which can range from high-pitched ringing to deafness.
Alan, 61, was diagnosed with bladder cancer two years ago, began chemotherapy in June 2013 and underwent five hours of major surgery in February to remove his bladder and some lymph glands.
But after the chemo he found it difficult to follow large conversations and also had problems hearing people when watching the television or listening to the radio.
Alan, who lives in Bitterne with his wife Helen, said: “Going through chemotherapy is tough and the side-effects are challenging.
“Hopefully this trial will be successful. Being involved with research that could ultimately make such a difference to a person’s life is fantastic.”
Alan now has an artificial bladder which means he was able to return to work.
The father of two added: “I am feeling pretty good. I am extremely lucky I had an issue with my prostate – as, without that, my bladder cancer may well not have been detected for some time.”
Professor Emma King, chief investigator and Cancer Research UK surgeon at the University of Southampton, said cisplatin was vital in saving lives despite the side effects.
She said: “It’s very unfortunate that for some patients this comes at the cost of some or all of their hearing. We don’t know exactly why this is, but it could be linked to the drug causing a build up of destructive molecules called ‘free radicals’.
“But aspirin seems to stop this happening by helping to mop them up before they can damage the delicate inner ear structures.”
The trial, called COAST, has recruited 88 adults who have been treated for cancer in hospitals across the UK, including Southampton General.
Half of the patients will be given daily high-doses of aspirin each time they receive cisplatin while the remainder will have a placebo.
Dr Ralph Holme, Head of Biomedical Research at charity Action on Hearing Loss, said: “When it comes it to treating a life-threatening illness like cancer, side effects such as hearing loss can be overlooked.
"Yet losing the capacity to communicate, isolating people from friends and family exactly when they need them the most, is devastating. As more people survive cancer, it is becoming ever more important that we find ways to reduce the damaging side effects of cancer treatments like cisplatin.
"We will be following the trial with great interest in the hope it will lead to an easy and effective way of preventing hearing loss.”