Testicular Cancer

Side effects of radiotherapy

Radiotherapy is sometimes used to treat testicular cancer (see 'Radiotherapy'). A few men experience very mild or no side effects of radiotherapy, and were able to continue their normal activities and work throughout their treatment (see 'Work'). 

Some men simply felt a bit tired. For example, one man interviewed here, never felt sick, and cycled 20 miles each way for his radiotherapy, refusing the offer of transport.

Most men, however, experienced more severe side effects, especially near to the end of the radiotherapy, and sometimes for a while afterwards. Many felt extremely tired, and some felt irritable and bad-tempered.

Some men felt nauseous, lost their appetite, lost their sense of taste, had diarrhoea, suffered heartburn, or were actually sick after each treatment. One man, treated in 1987, was violently sick after his first treatment. He complained that no one had warned him that this might happen.

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Another man recalled that he has been horribly sick after the first treatment. When he told the radiotherapists what had happened they told him that he shouldn't have eaten a big meal before his treatment. He was sick again the next day, even though he hadn't eaten anything. Tablets given to him by the staff didn't help. Other anti-sickness tablets prescribed by the GP helped a bit, but he still felt disorientated, as though he had sunstroke. Eventually the consultant prescribed some 'very strong' tablets, which, the consultant told him, cost £19 a tablet. These tablets 'worked' very well. (Today, at many hospitals, these strong anti-sickness pills are given to men routinely).

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This man also suffered severe indigestion, even after the treatment had finished (about 5% of men get indigestion after radiotherapy). He partially solved this problem by eating very small amounts of food whenever he was hungry. Another man remembered that while having radiotherapy he could only eat bland food, like rice, and had to avoid spicy food.

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One man suggested that symptoms were similar to those he suffered with irritable bowel syndrome. 

Feelings of nausea, and other side effects, sometimes made men feel quite miserable, and one suggested that he had almost succumbed to clinical depression (note that some patients may feel depressed because of the diagnosis itself, rather than the radiotherapy).

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Men may temporarily lose some hair within the treatment area. One man recalled that he had lost hair from his back and his stomach as the result of radiotherapy.

A few men said that they suffered some skin sensitivity. A man treated in 1967 suffered skin burns after experimental, high doses of radiotherapy, and a man treated more recently, who had 20 treatments, said that he received an oblong burn mark on his back, which disappeared after a few months. (Note that in the 1960's and 1970's the doses of radiotherapy were higher than they are today, and today men usually have 10 treatments rather than 20.)

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One man recalled that he had been told not to sunbathe. Another man mentioned that he didn't like the tattoo marks that had been left on his skin (see 'Radiotherapy').

Occasionally, radiotherapy can cause more serious side effects. One man thought that his treatment had caused adhesions, and that his large intestine had been 'welded' to his stomach. Another suffered a bowel obstruction due to the radiotherapy, and had to have a temporary ileostomy. However, he was treated in 1973, when doses of radiotherapy were much higher than they are today. An ileostomy is a surgical procedure in which the ileum (part of the small bowel) is brought out onto the abdomen so that the bowel movements can be collected in a bag worn over the opening or stoma.

Last reviewed December 2014.

 

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