Cisplatin-Induced Deafness: Aspirin Trialed as Potential Solution

Cancer Research UK launched a trial earlier this year to investigate whether high doses of aspirin can go some way to preventing permanent hearing loss in cancer patients taking the chemotherapy drug, Cisplatin. The drug is taken by approximately 18,500 cancer patients every year. Approximately half of them experience some form of hearing loss as a side effect. This can manifest itself as severe tinnitus (ringing in the ears) or unilateral/total deafness.

Cisplatin is widely-used in the treatment of various cancers including:

  • testicular cancer
  • bladder cancer
  • cervical cancer
  • head and neck cancer
  • germ cell cancer

It’s also used to treat some types of children’s cancers. The drug was originally developed in the 1970's and has proven especially effective in treating testicular cancer, which is now a largely curable disease.

The trial

Eighty eight patients volunteered to take part in this first part of the trial. Half of them will be given four doses of high-dose aspirin each day when they receive their standard cisplatin treatment, beginning the preceding day and continuing for three days afterward. The remainder of the participants will be given a placebo. All the patients taking part in the trial will receive a hearing test prior to their treatment, another one week in, and then a further test three months after the conclusion of the aspirin treatment.

Cisplatin undoubtedly saves many thousands of lives every year, though unfortunately at the cost of some or all of patients’ hearing. It’s not fully understood why this occurs, but researchers believe that the drug causes an accumulation of destructive molecules called, ‘free radicals’ in the body. Aspirin seems to prevent this build-up from occurring, effectively mopping up the free radicals before they cause damage to the delicate and vulnerable structures of the inner ear.

It’s well known that aspirin can cause serious side effects within the stomach, and is not suitable for everyone. As a precaution, researchers are using aspirin tablets treated with a special coating so that the drug is only released when it reaches the small intestine, together with another drug that works by reducing digestive juices. Both these measures should help to prevent bleeding in the stomach.

This is first phase of the trial and if it is successful, a larger phase will follow within two years. This trial could see aspirin being used routinely as part of cisplatin treatment for thousands of cancer patients. It is being funded by Cancer Research UK, whose scientists originally developed Cisplatin in the 1970's.

In conclusion

Cisplatin therapy now forms a core part of the successful treatment used for a wide range of cancers. It would be promising news if a simple dose of carefully refined aspirin could remove the risk of damaging long-term side effects, allowing former sufferers to go on to lead a full and healthy life.

Image: Cancer Research

Alison Page

About Alison Page

Alison is a small business owner, freelance writer, author and dressage judge. She has degrees in Equine Science and Business Studies. Read her full story at

Alison Page

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