Further tests for testicular cancer
If the removal of your testicle and initial tests show that you have cancer, you may have further tests to see whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, such as lymph nodes or other organs. These tests may also be used during or after treatment to check how well the treatment has worked.
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You will have a computerised tomography (CT) scan of your chest, abdomen and pelvis. Sometimes this is done before the orchidectomy.
A CT scan uses x-rays to take pictures of the inside of your body and then compiles them into one detailed, cross-sectional picture. To make the scan pictures clearer and easier to read, you may have to fast (not eat or drink) for a period of time before your appointment.
Before the scan, you may be given an injection of a dye into a vein in your arm to make the pictures clearer. This injection can make you feel hot all over for a few minutes. You might also feel like you need to urinate, but this sensation won’t last long. You may be asked to drink a liquid instead of having an injection.
You will lie flat on a table while the CT scanner, which is large and round like a doughnut, takes pictures. The test is painless and takes about 15 minutes.
In some circumstances, such as if you have an allergy to the dye normally used for a CT scan, you may instead have a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. An MRI uses a powerful magnet and radio waves to create detailed pictures of areas inside the body. Sometimes, a dye will be injected into a vein before the scan to help make the pictures clearer.
You will lie on a table that slides into a metal cylinder that is open at both ends. The machine makes a series of bangs and clicks and can be quite noisy. The scan is painless, but some people feel anxious lying in the narrow cylinder. Tell your doctor or nurse beforehand if you are prone to anxiety or claustrophobia. They can suggest breathing exercises or give you medicine to help you relax. The scan takes about 30 minutes, and most people are able to go home as soon as it is over.
In some circumstances, you may also be given a positron emission tomography (PET) scan combined with a CT scan. You will be injected with a small amount of a glucose (sugar) solution containing some radioactive material, then asked to rest for 30–60 minutes while the solution spreads throughout your body before you have the scan. Cancer cells show up more brightly on the scan because they absorb more of the glucose solution than normal cells do.
It may take a few hours to prepare for a PET–CT scan, but the scan itself usually takes about 15 minutes. The radioactive material in the glucose solution is not harmful and will leave your body within a few hours.
All tests and scans have risks and benefits, and you should discuss these with your doctor. You should let your medical team know if you have diabetes or kidney disease. It is also important to tell them if you have had an allergic reaction to iodine or dye (the contrast) during a previous scan.
Podcast: Tests and Cancer
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Prof Declan Murphy, Urologist and Director of Genitourinary Oncology, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Gregory Bock, Urology Cancer Nurse Coordinator, WA Cancer and Palliative Care Network, North Metropolitan Health Service, WA; A/Prof Nicholas Brook, Senior Consultant Urological Surgeon, Royal Adelaide Hospital and The University of Adelaide, SA; Clinical A/Prof Peter Grimison, Medical Oncologist, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse and The University of Sydney, NSW; Dr Tanya Holt, Senior Radiation Oncologist, Radiation Oncology Princess Alexandra Hospital Raymond Terrace (ROPART), QLD; Brodie Kitson, Consumer; Elizabeth Medhurst, Genitourinary and Stereotactic Ablative Body Radiotherapy (SABR) Nurse Consultant, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Rosemary Watson, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Victoria.
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