Cancer can happen in many parts in the body, and that includes sexual organs. If you or a loved one has testicular cancer, you should know it’s very often curable.
Treatment almost always involves surgery to remove a testicle. You can follow up with radiation or chemotherapy if the doctor finds the cancer has spread.
A surgeon will remove the affected testicle" for almost all stages and types of this cancer.
The surgeon makes an incision – a small cut -- into the abdomen just above the pubic area. He takes out the whole testicle.
He then cuts what’s called the spermatic cord, which holds the vessels that carry blood and fluid to the testicles. He does this to keep cancer cells from reaching the rest of the body.
The actual surgery usually takes about 30 minutes, and you usually go home the same day. Your surgery team will talk to you about care after leaving the hospital.
Lymph Node Removal
Sometimes, the surgery to take out a testicle isn’t enough, because cancer has spread to the lymph nodes at the back of the abdomen. Your doctor may take those out as well.
This operation might happen at the same time as the testicle surgery, or it might be done later.
You would get something to make you sleep through this surgery. It usually takes about 6 hours.
Sometimes, your doctor can take out the lymph nodes using much smaller cuts and long, thin tools. This is known as laparoscopic surgery. It’s easier to recover from this type of procedure.
Treatments After Surgery
Your doctor may find he’s gotten all the cancer and it hasn’t spread. But he’ll want you to come in for regular check-ups to make sure it hasn’t returned. It’s important for you to make it to each of those check-ups.
Your doctor may want to give you radiation or chemotherapy if you have an advanced case.
This uses X-rays or other high-energy beams to destroy cancer cells.
People who have the type of testicular cancer known as seminoma often get this. Sometimes, the lymph nodes at the back of the abdomen are radiated to kill any tumor cells that may have spread to them. Other parts of the body may be treated as well.
There are two types of this treatment:
- External therapy uses a machine that aims the radiation directly at the cancer to kill it.
- Internal therapy involves a radioactive substance in needles, wires or thin, flexible tubes called catheters. It is placed into the cancer cells or near them.
Side effects: You could feel very tired, want to throw up or have diarrhea. Talk to your doctor about what you can do to ease them.
Doctors try to protect your remaining testicle from radiation, which can affect your sperm count. You are more likely to be infertile if you have this treatment. If you want to have children in the future, you should ask your doctor about saving some of your sperm before you start.
This uses medicine to fight cancer cells, either by killing them or stopping them from splitting into more and more cells. You may take pills or get drugs through a tube placed in a vein. It depends on your particular case.
Your doctor might suggest that you get “chemo,” as it is often called, either before or after you have lymph node surgery. You might get several rounds of treatment that last for 3 or 4 weeks each, and you would take breaks in between them.
Side effects of chemo often include:
- Hair loss
- Loss of energy
- More chance of infections
- Problems with your kidneys, lungs, or nerves
Your doctor has ways to help you ease or even prevent these side effects, sometimes by taking other drugs. Or, you might also want to do things to help yourself, such as getting foods that are easier to eat. Talk to your doctor about that before you start treatment.
Chemo is also likely to leave you infertile. As with radiation therapy, talk to your doctor about saving your sperm if you want children in the future.
Stem Cell Transplant
This procedure is not very common. But if you have a cancer that needs a stronger treatment, this procedure can help your body handle even higher doses of chemotherapy. It replaces blood-forming cells that are killed by the cancer treatment.
How it works: The stem cells in this kind of treatment don’t come from embryos. Instead, they come from your own marrow, which is inside your bones, or from your blood. In some cases, another person donates some of their blood or marrow.
The stem cells are frozen and stored. After your chemo, they are thawed and returned back to you through a process called infusion.
It’s normal to have a lot of strong feelings when you’re dealing with cancer. Many boys and men find that professional counseling or support groups can help them handle the emotions that come with testicular cancer.
If you notice that you’re feeling depressed or anxious, talk to your doctor or a social worker about professionals you can meet with in your area.