In general, testicular cancers respond well to chemotherapy (chemo), but not all cancers are cured. Even though higher doses of chemo might be more effective, they are not given because they could severely damage the bone marrow, which is where new blood cells are formed. 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 higher doses of chemo. Blood-forming stem cells are collected from the bloodstream in the weeks before treatment using a special machine. In the past the stem cells were taken from the bone marrow, but this is done less often now. The stem cells are frozen, and then the patient receives high-doses of chemo.
After the chemo the patient gets his stem cells back again. This is called a transplant, but it doesn’t involve surgery – the cells are infused into a vein much like a blood transfusion. The stem cells settle in the bone marrow and start making new blood cells over the next few weeks.
For testicular cancer, stem cell transplant is most often used to treat cancers that have come back after treatment with chemo. Current studies are exploring whether a stem cell transplant may be valuable in treating some patients with advanced germ cell cancers as part of their first treatment.
A stem cell transplant is a complex treatment that can cause life-threatening side effects because of the high doses of chemotherapy used. Be sure you understand the possible benefits and risks. If the doctors think you might benefit from a transplant, it should be done at a hospital where the staff has experience with the procedure and with managing the recovery phase.
Stem cell transplants often require a long hospital stay and can be very expensive. Even if the transplant is covered by your insurance, your co-pays or other costs could add up to a lot of money. It is important to find out what your insurer will cover before deciding on a transplant to get an idea of what you might have to pay.
For more information on stem cell transplants, see Stem Cell Transplant (Peripheral Blood, Bone Marrow, and Cord Blood Transplants).
Last Revised: 02/12/2016