Cancer of the Testicle (cont.)
The initial treatment for testicular cancer is orchiectomy (surgical removal of the testicle and the attached cord). This is the standard therapy and is recommended for all men with testicular cancer.
Whether a patient has additional therapy following surgery depends on a number of factors: the tumor type, the location and extent of the cancer (whether it is limited to the scrotum or has spread to the abdominal cavity or other sites), and the serum tumor marker levels (AFP and beta-HCG). Men should discuss their urologist's recommendations and the risks and benefits of each therapy before making a decision. Some individuals may want to consider getting a second opinion before beginning treatment.
For germ cell tumors, the following options are available for treatment after orchiectomy.
Surveillance: This is sometimes called "watchful waiting" or "observation." What it means is that the patient receives no further treatment after orchiectomy but must adhere to a very strict schedule of follow-up visits with a urologist. The idea is to detect any potential residual or recurrent cancer and then proceed with treatment at that point.
- Surveillance protocols vary by physician, but a typical protocol would require visits every
two months for the first year, with tumor markers, chest X-ray, and CT scan of the abdomen done at every visit or every other visit.
- Follow-up is lifelong, gradually (over five or more years) tapering the frequency of the visits and tests to once per year (as long as no cancer is detected).
- Surveillance is a calculated gamble. The patient is betting that they have no residual disease but that, if they do, it will be found early while still highly curable. The advantage to this choice is that patients are avoiding the potential side effects of and lengthy recovery from chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
- If a patient is concerned about being able to stick with the rigorous surveillance schedule, immediate surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy may be the best choice.
- Surveillance is not recommended for all men with testicular cancer. Generally, it is reserved for men with stage I disease
at low-risk of recurrence.
- Statistically, men who choose surveillance for select stage I cancer have just as good a chance of ultimate cure as men who proceed with immediate treatment.
- The risks and benefits are complex. These should be discussed in great detail with the physician before making a decision.
Chemotherapy: Combinations of drugs are the standard, whether a cancer is good risk or poor risk. The revolution in treatment of testicular cancer is attributed to the use of these regimens. The drugs are given in cycles consisting of about
five days of intense treatment followed by a recovery period of approximately three weeks.
- Chemotherapy is the standard treatment for stage III disease.
- Patients will be referred to a cancer specialist (oncologist) for chemotherapy.
- Good-risk tumors (as determined by blood tumor marker levels and the radiographic extent of disease) are treated with a combination called BEP (bleomycin [Blenoxane], etoposide [VePesid], and cisplatin [Platinol]) for
three cycles or a combination of etoposide and cisplatin for four cycles.
- Poor-risk tumors are also treated with BEP but for four cycles. Another option is VIP (etoposide [VP-16], ifosfamide [Ifex], and cisplatin).
- Each cycle lasts three to four weeks, although the next cycle may be postponed if the person has severe side effects.
- In rare cases of very aggressive cancer, high-dose chemotherapy with stem cell transplant is used. This is not offered unless regular chemotherapy has not worked to control the disease.
- Side effects may include kidney dysfunction, alterations in skin sensation (17%-45% of men), hearing changes (30%-40%), decreased blood circulation to extremities (25%-50%), cardiovascular disease (18%), testosterone deficiency (15%), lung damage, infertility (30%), and a slight increase in the incidence of secondary solid tumors.
Radiation therapy: Radiation is the targeting of high-energy radiation beams directly at the tumor. In testicular cancer, the beam is targeted mainly at the lower abdomen to destroy any residual disease in lymph nodes.
- Radiation is usually offered for stage I or low-volume stage II seminoma. It is not recommended for nonseminoma.
- Patients will be referred to a specialist in radiation therapy (radiation oncologist) for this treatment.
- The radiation is given in a series of brief treatments five days a week, usually for
three to four weeks. The repeated treatments help destroy the tumor.
- The remaining testicle is shielded to prevent damage to healthy tissue.
- Side effects include nausea (50%),
vomiting (6%), diarrhea, loss of energy, irritation or mild burning of the skin exposed to the radiation beam, impaired fertility, and slightly increased risk of other cancers.
Steven C Campbell, MD, PhD
Scott H Plantz, MD, FAAEM
Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD
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