Chemotherapy for testicular cancer
Chemotherapy (chemo) is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. The drugs can be taken in pill form or through a needle into a vein or muscle. Once the drugs enter the bloodstream, they spread throughout the body. Chemo is a good way to destroy any cancer cells that break off from the main tumor and travel in the bloodstream to lymph nodes or distant organs. It is often used to cure testicular cancer when it has spread outside the testicle or to decrease the risk of cancer coming back after the testicle is removed.
Doctors give chemo in cycles, with each round of treatment followed by a rest period to allow the body time to recover. Chemo cycles often last about 3 to 4 weeks. Using 2 or more chemo drugs together often works better than using one drug alone.
Chemo can have some side effects. These side effects will depend on the type of drugs given, the amount taken, and how long the treatment lasts. Side effects could include:
- Hair loss (hair grows back after treatment)
- Mouth sores
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Increased chance of infection (from low white blood cell counts)
- Easy bruising or bleeding (from low blood platelet counts)
- Tiredness (from low red blood cell counts)
If you have side effects, your doctor or nurse can suggest steps to ease them. For instance, there are drugs to help control and prevent nausea and vomiting. The good news is that most side effects will go away when your treatment ends.
Long-term side effects of chemo
Some of the drugs used to treat testicular cancer can also cause long-term side effects. These can include:
- Kidney damage
- Nerve damage (which can cause numbness and tingling)
- Hearing loss (from nerve damage)
- Lung damage (which can cause shortness of breath and reduce your ability to exercise)
Some of the drugs used to treat testicular cancer can have side effects other than those mentioned above. Most side effects are short-term and go away after treatment is finished, but some can last a long time and may never go away completely. You should report any side effects or changes you notice while getting chemo to your doctor so that you can get prompt treatment for them.
Getting a second cancer (usually leukemia) is another very serious, but rare, side effect. It happens in less than 1% of testicular cancer patients treated with chemo. Men who have had chemo for testicular cancer also seem to have a higher risk of heart problems later in life. Several studies have also suggested that chemo treatment can sometimes cause high blood cholesterol over time, which may later need treatment.
To find out more about chemo and its side effects, please see our document, Understanding Chemotherapy: A Guide for Patients and Families.
Last Medical Review: 05/16/2012
Last Revised: 01/28/2013