- How is testicular cancer treated?
- Surgery for testicular cancer
- Radiation therapy for testicular cancer
- Chemotherapy for testicular cancer
- High-dose chemotherapy and stem cell transplant for testicular cancer
- Clinical trials for testicular cancer
- Complementary and alternative therapies for testicular cancer
- Treatment options for testicular cancer by stage
- More treatment information for testicular cancer
Radiation therapy for testicular cancer
Radiation therapy uses a beam of high-energy rays (such as gamma rays or x-rays) or particles (such as electrons, protons, or neutrons) to destroy cancer cells or slow their rate of growth. In treating testicular cancer, radiation is used mainly to kill cancer cells that have spread to lymph nodes.
Radiation therapy for testicular cancer is delivered by a carefully focused beam of radiation from a machine outside the body. This is known as external beam radiation. The treatment is much like getting an x-ray, but the radiation is more intense. The procedure itself is painless. Before your treatments start, the medical team will take careful measurements to determine the correct angles for aiming the radiation beams and the proper dose of radiation. Each treatment lasts only a few minutes, but the setup time -- getting you into place for treatment -- usually takes longer.
In general, radiotherapy is mainly used for patients with seminoma, which is very sensitive to radiation. It does not seem to work well for non-seminomas. Sometimes it is used after orchiectomy (the operation to remove the testicle) and is directed at the lymph nodes at the back of the abdomen (the retroperitoneal lymph nodes). This is to kill any tiny bits of cancer in those lymph nodes that can't be seen. Radiotherapy can also be used to treat small amounts of seminoma that are known to have spread to the nodes (based on changes seen on CT and PET scans).
Possible side effects
Radiation therapy can affect nearby healthy tissue along with the cancer cells. To reduce the risk of side effects, doctors carefully figure out the exact dose you need and aim the beam as accurately as they can to hit the target. Generally, treatment of testicular cancer uses lower radiation doses than those needed for other types of cancer.
Common side effects include fatigue, nausea, or diarrhea. Some men experience a skin reaction that is like a sunburn, but it’s uncommon. This slowly fades away. Radiation to the healthy testicle can affect fertility (sperm counts), so a special protective device is placed over the remaining testicle to help protect it. Radiation can also increase the risk of getting a second cancer (outside of the testicle). This risk was higher in the past when higher doses were used and more tissue was exposed to radiation.
Last Medical Review: 05/04/2012
Last Revised: 01/17/2013