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Radiation therapy uses a beam of high-energy rays (such as gamma rays or x-rays) or particles (such as electrons, protons, or neutrons) to destroy cancer cells or slow their growth. In treating testicular cancer , radiation is used mainly to kill cancer cells that have spread to lymph nodes.
Radiation therapy, in which a machine sends radiation to a specific part of the body is known as external beam radiation. The treatment is much like getting an x-ray, but the radiation is stronger. Radiation doesn't hurt. Before your treatments start, the medical team will take careful measurements to determine the correct angles for aiming the radiation beams and the proper dose of radiation. Each treatment lasts only a few minutes, but the set-up time – getting you into place for treatment – usually takes longer.
In general, radiation therapy is mainly used for patients with seminoma, which is very sensitive to radiation. Sometimes it’s used after orchiectomy (the operation to remove the testicle) and is directed at the lymph nodes at the back of the abdomen (the retroperitoneal lymph nodes). This is to kill any tiny bits of cancer in those lymph nodes that can’t be seen. It can also be used to treat small amounts of seminoma that have spread to the nodes (based on changes seen on CT and PET scans).
Radiation is also sometimes used to treat testicular cancer (both seminoma and non-seminoma) that has spread to distant organs (like the brain).
Radiation therapy can affect nearby healthy tissue along with the cancer cells. To reduce the risk of side effects, doctors carefully figure out the exact dose you need and aim the beams to hit the tumor. The treatment of testicular cancer often uses lower radiation doses than those needed for other types of cancer.
Common side effects can include:
Some men have a skin changes such as redness, blistering, or peeling, but those are uncommon.
These side effects get better overtime after radiation is finished. If radiation reaches the healthy testicle it can affect fertility (sperm counts), so a special protective shield is placed over the remaining testicle to help protect it.
Radiation can also have some long-term effects, such as damage to blood vessels or other organs near the treated lymph nodes It can also cause an increased 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.
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.
Last Revised: May 17, 2018
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