Chemotherapy (chemo) is the use of drugs to treat cancer. The drugs can be taken as pills 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 cancer cells that break off from the main tumor and travel to lymph nodes or distant organs. It is often used for testicular cancer that 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.
The side effects of chemo depend on the type of drugs given, the amount taken, and how long the treatment lasts. Common short-term side effects could include:
- Hair loss (hair grows back after treatment)
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Low white blood cells, which increases chance of infection
- Low blood platelets, which can lead to easy bruising or bleeding
- Low red blood cell counts, which can lead to feeling tired and weak
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. 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.
Some of the drugs used to treat testicular cancer can have other side effects that can last a long time and may never go away completely. These can include:
- Kidney or bladder damage
- Nerve damage (which can cause numbness and tingling)
- Hearing loss
- Lung damage (which can cause shortness of breath and reduce your ability to exercise)
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.
For more about chemo and its side effects, please see, A Guide to Chemotherapy.
Last Revised: 02/12/2016