Radiation therapy for testicular cancer
Also known as radiotherapy, radiation therapy uses a controlled dose of radiation to kill cancer cells or damage them so they cannot grow, multiply or spread. The radiation is usually in the form of focused high-energy x-ray beams.
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Having radiation therapy
Radiation therapy is sometimes given to people with seminoma cancer after surgery to prevent the cancer from coming back and to destroy any cancer cells that may have already spread from the cancer to the lymph glands.
Treatment is carefully planned to ensure that any remaining cancer cells are destroyed while causing the least possible harm to normal tissue. During a radiation therapy session, you will lie under a machine called a linear accelerator. The radiation is directed at lymph glands in the back of the abdomen or in the pelvis. The unaffected testicle may be covered with a lead barrier to help preserve your fertility.
Radiation therapy is painless and can’t be felt. It is just like having an x-ray taken. The treatment itself takes only a few minutes, but each session may last 10–15 minutes because of the time it takes to set up the equipment and place you in the correct position.
Most people have outpatient treatment sessions at a radiation therapy centre from Monday to Friday for 2–4 weeks. Your doctor will let you know how many sessions you need.
For more on this, see Radiation therapy.
Side effects of radiation therapy
Radiation therapy can cause a range of side effects, including skin reactions, fatigue and stomach problems. However, most side effects disappear within a few weeks of finishing treatment.
In most cases, radiation therapy for testicular cancer won’t irritate the skin in the treatment area. If the skin does become red or sore, talk to your treatment team about using a moisturising cream, such as sorbolene.
Some people find they become very tired and lack energy for everyday tasks. Try doing some gentle exercise as this can help with fatigue. Plan your activities so you can rest regularly during the day. Talk to your family and friends about how they can help you. The tiredness often lasts for a few weeks after treatment is finished.
For more on this, see Fatigue.
If the treatment area includes your abdomen, you could have some minor stomach-aches, nausea or bloating. Your doctor may prescribe medicines to prevent these symptoms from occurring, or to treat them if they do occur.
Radiation therapy sometimes causes diarrhoea and cramping. These bowel irritations are usually minor and do not need treatment, but if they are bothering you, talk to your doctor about adjusting your diet or taking medicines.
You may lose pubic and abdominal hair in the treatment area. After treatment, your hair will usually grow back.
For more on this, see Hair loss.
In some people, the bladder and urinary tract may become irritated and inflamed. Drinking plenty of fluids will help, but you should avoid alcoholic or caffeinated beverages, as they can irritate the bladder further.
Radiation therapy may reduce sperm production or damage sperm. The effect on sperm may be temporary or permanent. Speak with your radiation oncologist about sperm banking before starting radiation therapy. You will still need to use contraception.
Using contraception during treatment
Even if treatment lowers sperm production, there is still a chance your partner could become pregnant. Because chemotherapy and radiation therapy can damage sperm, you will need to use contraception during treatment and sometimes for some months afterwards to prevent pregnancy. Your doctor will discuss this with you. For more on this, see Effects on fertility.
Risk of heart disease
People who have radiation therapy for testicular cancer have a higher risk of heart (cardiovascular) disease. You will have heart function tests before and after treatment.
Risk of other cancers
People who have radiation therapy for testicular cancer are at a slightly increased risk of a secondary cancer in the area exposed to radiation. If these cancers do occur, they appear many years after treatment. Because of this small risk, you will have regular check-ups after radiation therapy to test for cancer.
Your radiation oncologist will see you at least once a week to monitor and treat any side effects during the course of your treatment. You can also talk to a nurse if you are concerned about side effects.
Video: What is radiation therapy?
Watch this short video to learn more about radiation therapy.
Podcast for people affected by cancer
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
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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