Testicular Cancer

Radiotherapy for testicular cancer

Radiotherapy treats cancer by using high-energy x-rays, which destroy the cancer cells, while doing as little harm as possible to the normal cells (see Macmillan Cancer Support for more information). It is sometimes used to treat men with a tumour called a seminoma as an alternative to chemotherapy, but is not usually to treat a teratoma with radiotherapy. Seminoma are particularly sensitive to radiotherapy but they also respond well to chemotherapy which often causes fewer side effects and so radiotherapy is now not often used.

Radiotherapy is given to men with seminoma (usually aimed at lymph nodes in the abdomen) either to prevent the cancer coming back after the testicle has been removed, or to treat the disease if it has spread to the glands at the back of the abdomen.

Radiotherapy has to be carefully planned. On the first visit the patient may be asked to have a CT scan or lie under a machine called a simulator, which takes X-rays of the area to be treated. 

The radiographer, who gives you your treatment, will draw marks on your skin to help position you accurately and to show where the rays are to be directed. These marks must stay throughout your treatment, and permanent marks (like tiny tattoos) may be used. The marks are very small and will only be done with your permission.

This tattooing does not hurt, and the marks help the radiographer to position the patient accurately during the radiotherapy. Most of the healthy tissue is shielded from the radiation beam.

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Radiotherapy is usually given daily, Monday to Friday, as an outpatient. A course of treatment usually lasts between two and four weeks.

The treatment itself only takes a few minutes and is painless. However, two men we interviewed reported feeling a strange sensation during treatment. One man remembered the sirens that went off as the radiographers 'scurried' from the room. Some remembered the beeps and buzzing noises that occurred when X-rays were taken. Others remarked on the massive machines, and remembered feeling scared and intimidated. One man said he felt a bit frightened at first, but eventually got used to it. One man commented on the beams of light and 'space-age' machines, and found the whole experience quite exciting.

The radiographers were often mentioned. One man said that they were friendly, explained everything, and gave him pills to prevent sickness (also see 'Side effects of radiotherapy'). The radiographers also gave him instructions about skin care and washing.

In very rare cases, radiotherapy is directed at the testicle itself. One man we spoke to, who had already lost one testicle, was given radiotherapy to try to kill the cancer cells in his other testicle, without destroying the healthy hormone producing cells.

Last reviewed December 2017.

Last updated December 2017.


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