Radiation therapy for testicular cancer
This treatment uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells or slow their growth. In testicular cancer, radiation is mainly used to kill cancer cells that have spread to lymph nodes.
Radiation for testicular cancer uses focused beams from a machine outside the body. The treatment is much like getting an x-ray, but the radiation is stronger. Doctors figure out the exact dose you need. Then they aim the beams very carefully at the cancer to reduce the risk of side effects. Special shields are used to protect the healthy testicle. Each treatment lasts only a few minutes, but the setup time—getting you into place for treatment—usually takes longer.
Radiation therapy is mainly used for patients with seminomas since it does not seem to work well for non-seminomas. Sometimes it is used after the testicle has been removed (orchiectomy) and is aimed at the lymph nodes at the back of the belly. This is to kill any tiny bits of cancer in those lymph nodes that can’t be seen.
Possible side effects
Radiation therapy can affect nearby healthy tissue along with the cancer cells.
Possible side effects include tiredness (fatigue), nausea, or loose bowels (diarrhea). It isn’t common, but some men get a skin reaction like sunburn. This slowly fades away. There is also a very small chance of a new cancer in the future. Radiation can also have some long-term effects, such as damage to nearby blood vessels or other organs and an increase the risk of getting a second cancer (outside of the testicle) later in life. These risks were higher in the past when higher doses were used and more tissue was exposed to radiation.
More information on radiation therapy can be found in the Radiation section of our website, or in our document Understanding Radiation Therapy: A Guide for Patients and Families
Last Medical Review: 01/02/2014
Last Revised: 02/11/2014