Testicular Cancer

Chemotherapy for testicular cancer

Chemotherapy involves the use of anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs, which destroy cancer cells by damaging them so that they can't divide and grow. These drugs can also affect normal cells that are growing and dividing, and thus may cause side effects (see 'Side effects of chemotherapy').

If a man has a teratoma, and if the cancer has not spread, two short courses of chemotherapy (BEP chemotherapy, for more information see Macmillan Cancer Support) may be given to prevent the cancer coming back (after the testicle has been removed). This is called adjuvant chemotherapy. 

If a man has a teratoma, and the cancer has spread elsewhere in the body, two to four sessions of chemotherapy are usually given. Each session involves spending a few days in hospital followed by weekly outpatient's visits to be given the chemotherapy drugs. If the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, a longer course of chemotherapy may be necessary. The chemotherapy drugs are given by injection into a vein (intravenously).

Interview 12 (see below) was in hospital for three days for each treatment cycle and then went home for two and a half weeks. He described the intravenous saline he was given before the chemotherapy to flush out his kidneys.

Men we interviewed who had been in this situation described their experiences of chemotherapy. Some said that the room where they were given chemotherapy looked like a 'normal' hospital ward. They remembered the calm atmosphere, and patients reading books or newspapers.

Another man recalled that when the first drug was given to him through a drip he felt a cold shiver go up his arm. One other interviewee said he had to stay in bed for the first two treatments, which he found quite restricting and uncomfortable, but during the third treatment, which only lasted for a couple of hours, he was free to wander round the hospital.

One man recalled that the nurses and doctors had great difficulty in finding a vein in order to put up the drip for his chemotherapy. His arm became sore and swollen because the drip had come out of the vein in his arm, and the chemotherapy had gone into the surrounding tissue. Eventually he had a Hickman line (a central line for the administration of drugs that is left in place) installed in his chest to make the administration of the drugs easier.

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If a man has a seminoma, and if there is no spread of the disease, a single dose of chemotherapy (carboplatin) is used (see Cancer Research UK for more information). One man described his short visit to the hospital for treatment. The drip was put up, and the only discomfort he felt was where the needle went into his wrist.

If a man has a seminoma that has spread to other parts of the body, radiotherapy alone may be one way of curing the disease, but sometimes chemotherapy is considered to be a better option, particularly if the cancer has spread extensively. One man told us about his experiences of this, recalling that it was sometimes hard to sleep during the night, and how the alarm went off when he accidentally pulled the drip out of his arm.
Chemotherapy may also occasionally be used to shrink down a large testicular cancer before surgery so that it can be removed more easily. This is known as neo-adjuvant chemotherapy.

Treatment for testicular cancer is very successful, and the cancer does not usually come back after standard chemotherapy. If the standard chemotherapy does not get rid of the cancer cells, higher doses of chemotherapy are occasionally needed (which is rare), with stem cell support. High doses of chemotherapy damage cells in the bone marrow, so certain cells in the blood called peripheral blood stem cells are collected and stored before treatment begins, and returned to the blood afterwards.

Last reviewed December 2017.
Last updated December 2017.


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