Prostate cancer relies on the male hormone, testosterone, to enable it to grow. One way of controlling the cancer is to starve it of testosterone. This can either be done medically, using drugs, or surgically by performing an orchidectomy (removal of the testicles). Orchidectomy is not used very often these days because there are hormone treatments available that work in the same way.
Some men prefer this operation to taking medication over a long period of time. Either both testicles are removed completely, or the area of each testicle responsible for testosterone production is cut, so that the two non-functional testicles remain within the scrotum. This operation may be done as a day case with local anaesthetic, or as an inpatient with a spinal or general anaesthetic. The side effects of this operation are similar to those experienced by men on medical hormone treatment (see ‘Side effects of treatments‘).
One man described his orchidectomy as a very minor operation, but another man developed complications and was in hospital for five days. This man, who had a very high PSA level, but who had not had cancer confirmed by biopsy, followed his surgeon’s advice to have the orchidectomy, as the most suitable form of treatment. This man still wonders whether or not he has cancer, given that the diagnosis was made on the basis of his raised PSA level alone.