Testicular cancer and radiation therapy
What is testicular cancer?
Testicular cancer is defined as cancerous cells that originate within the testicles. This cancer is the most common form of cancer in young men – typically between the ages of 15 to 34. Most testicular cancers originate as germ cell tumors. Germ cells are reproductive cells in both males and females. In males, this consists of the sperm cells that are found in the testicles. Testicular germ cell tumors are categorized as seminomas, non-seminomas, or mixed cell tumors. Seminoma tumors are slow growing and spread more slowly than other testicular tumors. Non-seminoma tumors are fast growing and spread quickly.
Radiation for Testicular Cancer
Radiation therapy is a recommended treatment option when testicular cancer is diagnosed in its early stages. This therapy is delivered post-op after the patient’s testicle has been removed. The type of radiation used is called External Beam Radiation Therapy (EBRT), which directs a beam of radiation, from outside the body, at the lymph nodes in the pelvic region.
When a patient is diagnosed with a Stage I seminoma, it means that the cancer is still contained within the testicle. This diagnosis is confirmed after surgical removal of the testicle, known as an orchiectomy. After surgery, radiation therapy might be indicated. For testicular patients that need radiation, the radiation is delivered to the retroperitoneal space which may include the pelvic lymph nodes. These are the lymph nodes that the testicle drains to. The goal is to contain and destroy any remaining cancer cells.
Radiation therapy is also indicated for Stage II seminoma. This stage means that cancerous cells have moved beyond the testes into localized lymph nodes. Radiation therapy is also an option for Stage III seminoma – cancerous cells that have moved to distant lymph nodes.
Radiation therapy is not considered a first-line treatment for non-seminoma tumors. These tumors grow and spread quickly, so it is difficult to target these cancerous cells with radiation.
Male fertility side effect
Radiation therapy may have an effect on male fertility based on the dose of radiation being used, and the area in which the radiation is directed. High doses of radiation targeting the testicles and groin may have a negative affect on sperm. The radiation oncologist will discuss this with patients prior to treatment. Radiation can also affect a child in utero, so achieving pregnancy during treatment is not recommended. It is important to talk to the radiation oncologist about your fertility goals.
If you have been diagnosed with testicular cancer, contact The Austin Center for Radiation Oncology to schedule a consultation with Dr. Richard Garza.