This page discusses the use of chemotherapy for the treatment of testicular cancer. For a thorough review of chemotherapy for cancer treatment, please see the chemotherapy treatment monograph .

Cancer chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. Unlike radiation and surgery, which are localized treatments, chemotherapy is a systemic treatment, meaning the drugs travel throughout the whole body. This means chemotherapy can reach cancer cells that may have spread, or metastasized, to other areas.

Chemotherapy is usually injected or infused into a vein, but some forms can be given by mouth. Your medical oncologist will tell you what type and how many cycles or courses of chemotherapy are best for you. The side effects and amount of time required in your doctor’s office depend on the type of chemotherapy you receive, as well as how many cycles you receive and how often. The most common chemotherapy-associated side effects are:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fatigue or tiredness
  • Hair loss
  • Decreased blood counts

Chemotherapy Drugs Used for Testicular Cancer

The following chemotherapy drugs are commonly used to treat testicular cancer:

  • Bleomycin (Blenoxane)
  • Cisplatin (Platinol-AQ)
  • Etoposide (VePesid, Toposar, Etopophos)

Effectiveness

Research has led to great advances in treating testicular cancer with chemotherapy. Cure rates are high in most stages of the disease. In many cases, testicular cancer can be cured with chemotherapy, even if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. The most important chemotherapy drug in the treatment of testicular cancer is cisplatin. It is most often used in combination with etoposide (EP) or bleomycin and etoposide (BEP). These combinations are typically given on a 21-day treatment cycle for three or four cycles, depending on the stage of the disease.

Bleomycin (Blenoxane)

Bleomycin is part of the BEP combination used to treat certain germ cell cancers of the testicle. A typical dose is 30 units of bleomycin given intravenously (by IV) on days 2, 9, and 16 of each 21-day treatment cycle.

Possible side effects of bleomycin include the following:

  • Severe allergic reactions
  • Lung damage
  • Hair loss
  • Vomiting
  • Rashes
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Weight loss
  • Circulation problems

Etoposide (VP-16, Epipodophyllotoxin)

The second member of BEP treatment for germ cell cancers, etoposide is typically given on days 1 through 5 of each 21-day cycle.

Possible side effects of etoposide include the following:

  • Severe bone marrow damage (including the risk of leukemia) may occur, but is uncommon
  • Severe allergic reactions
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Hair loss
  • Lowering of blood counts

Cisplatin (Platinol-AQ)

Cisplatin is a platinum-based chemotherapy drug. Cisplatin is the third member of the standard BEP regimen for germ cell cancers, typically given on days 1-5 of a 21 day cycle.

Possible side effects of cisplatin include the following:

  • Life-threatening allergic reactions (rare)
  • Kidney damage
  • Hearing loss
  • Bone marrow damage
  • Liver damage
  • Nerve damage
  • Blood vessel damage
  • Nausea and vomiting

Although the side effects of chemotherapy for testicular cancer can be substantial, chemotherapy can cure most patients.

For more information on chemotherapy, including how to manage the side effects, see the chemotherapy treatment monograph.