Treating advanced testicular cancer: a success story

April 17, 2019 | by Brian Myre, M.D.

Testicular cancer is the most common cancer in young men between the ages of 15 and 35.

Just over 40 years ago, the great majority of patients with metastatic testicular cancer died within one year of diagnosis. Today, an even larger majority of patients with metastatic testicular cancer are completely cured of their disease. Even in cases where the cancer has spread to organs such as the liver, lungs or brain, the expected outcome is cure.

What led to this cure was the scientific development and incorporation of the naturally occurring element platinum into chemotherapy at Indiana University in the 1970s.

A decade earlier, Michigan State University researchers discovered platinum’s anti-cancer activity by accident in an experiment testing electrical fields against bacteria. The platinum metal electrode happened to be corroding and stopping cell growth. Physicians at Indiana then spearheaded trials in testicular cancer.

Today, a young man with widespread testicular cancer can rid his body of every cancer cell with three months of outpatient platinum-based treatment. It is one of the great success stories of modern medicine.

Not only does platinum remain the backbone in the treatment of advanced testicular cancer, its initial use in testicular cancer led to later breakthroughs in first-line treatment of a variety of other cancers, including lung, colon, pancreas, bladder, breast, head and neck, ovarian and cervical.

Young men today will very rarely die of testicular cancer as the cure rate is now greater than 95 percent.  However, early detection remains important. If the cancer is caught before it has spread, chemotherapy can be avoided completely and a cure can be achieved with simple surgical removal of the affected testicle.

The most common symptoms of early testicular cancer are a painless testicular nodule or swelling.

April is Testicular Cancer Awareness Month. Men with questions or concerns should contact their physician.

Brian Myre, M.D., is a hematologist/oncologist with Edward-Elmhurst Health. Prior to coming to Edward-Elmhurst, Dr. Myre was a fellow at the Indiana University Simon Cancer Center. View his profile.

Learn more about cancer services at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

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