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Chemotherapy (chemo) is the use of drugs to treat cancer. The drugs can be swallowed in pill form, or they can be injected by needle into a vein or muscle. To treat testicular cancer , the drugs are usually given into a vein (IV). Chemo is systemic therapy. This means that the drug travels throughout the body to reach and destroy the cancer cells. Chemo is used to destroy any cancer cells that break off from the main tumor and travel to lymph nodes or other pats of the body.
Chemo is often used to cure testicular cancer when it has spread outside the testicle. It's also used to help decrease the risk of cancer coming back after the testicle is removed. It's not used to treat cancer that's only in the testicle.
Chemo is given in cycles, with each period of treatment followed by a rest period to allow the body time to recover. Chemo cycles generally last about 3 to 4 weeks. The main drugs used to treat testicular cancer are:
Using 2 or more chemo drugs often works better than using any single drug alone. The chemo regimens most commonly used as the first treatment for testicular cancer are:
Some doctors use more intensive plans for patients with high-risk disease, and may suggest a different combination of chemo drugs or even a stem cell transplant .
Chemo drugs attack cells that are dividing quickly, which is why they work against cancer cells. But other cells in the body, such as those in the bone marrow (where new blood cells are made), the lining of the mouth and intestines, and the hair follicles, also divide quickly. These cells are also likely to be affected by chemo, which can lead to certain side effects.
The side effects of chemo depend on the type and dose of drugs used and how long they are given. These side effects can include:
Some of the drugs used to treat testicular cancer can have other side effects. For example:
Most side effects are short-term and go away overtime after treatment ends, but some can last a long time and may never go away completely. Tell your treatment team about any side effects or changes you notice while getting chemo so you can get prompt treatment for them. There are often ways to prevent or lessen side effects. For example, there are drugs to help prevent or reduce nausea and vomiting. In some cases, the doses of the chemo drugs may need to be reduced or treatment may need to be delayed or stopped to keep side effects from getting worse.
Some of the drugs used to treat testicular cancer can cause long-term side effects. These include some of the things mentioned earlier, like hearing loss and kidney or lung damage. Development of a second cancer (like leukemia) is a very serious but rare side effect of chemo, occurring in less than 1% of testicular cancer patients treated with chemo. People who've had chemo for testicular cancer seem to have a higher risk of heart problems later in life. Several studies have also suggested that chemo can sometimes cause high blood cholesterol to develop over time, which may later require treatment.
Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.
American Society of Clinical Oncology. Testicular Cancer: Treatment Options. 09/2016. Accessed at www.cancer.net/cancer-types/testicular-cancer/treatment-options on May 1, 2018.
National Comprehensive Cancer Network, Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines®), Testicular Cancer, Version 2.2018 -- February 16, 2018. Accessed at www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/pdf/testicular.pdf on May 1, 2018.
Smith ZL, Werntz RP, Eggener SE. Testicular Cancer: Epidemiology, Diagnosis, and Management. Med Clin N Am. 2018;102:251-264.
Last Revised: May 17, 2018