High-dose chemo and stem cell transplant for testicular cancer
For the most part, testicular cancers respond well to chemotherapy (chemo), but not all cancers are cured. Even though higher doses of chemo drugs might work better, giving them could damage the bone marrow, which is where new blood cells are made. This could lead to life-threatening infections, bleeding, and other problems because of low blood cell counts.
A stem cell transplant allows doctors to use these higher doses of chemo. In this treatment, blood-forming cells called stem cells are taken out of the bloodstream using a special machine. (In the past the bone marrow was used, but this is done less often now.) These stem cells are frozen and saved while the patient gets high-dose chemo. After treatment, the frozen stem cells are given back to the patient much like a blood transfusion. This is called a transplant, but it does not involve surgery – the cells are put into a vein.
Current studies are looking at whether stem cell transplant may be useful as part of the first treatment for some patients with advanced germ cell cancer. Today transplant is mostly used for testicular cancer that has come back after regular chemo.
This is a complex and intense treatment. It should be done at a hospital where the staff has experience with stem cell transplant and with managing the recovery phase. Stem cell transplants can cost a lot and often involve a long hospital stay. It is important to find out what your health insurance will cover before you decide on a transplant to get an idea of what you might have to pay.
To learn more about stem cell transplantation see our document, Stem Cell Transplant (Peripheral Blood, Bone Marrow, and Cord Blood Transplants).
Last Medical Review: 05/16/2012
Last Revised: 01/28/2013