, Volume 58, Issue 2, pp 257-281
Date: 10 Oct 2012

Diagnosis and Treatment of Patients with Testicular Germ Cell Cancer

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Abstract

Testicular germ cell tumours are a highly curable malignancy even in the presence of metastases, with an overall survival rate of approximately 90 to 95% when all stages are considered. Current therapeutic strategies aim at risk-adapted therapy, trying to maintain favourable overall results while reducing treatment-related toxicity, particularly in non-advanced disease.

In stage I disease, unilateral inguinal orchiectomy represents the standard diagnostic and therapeutic approach. For patients with clinical stage I seminoma, prophylactic para-aortic radiotherapy with 26Gy is commonly employed. In patients with nonseminomatous germ cell tumours (NSGCT) at clinical stage I, the 3 options are: (i) retroperitoneal lymphadenectomy; (ii) a wait-and-see strategy; or (iii) 2 cycles of adjuvant chemotherapy. The individual risk profile for tumour recurrence, mainly based on histopathological criteria such as vascular tumour invasion, should guide treatment decisions in this group of patients.

Radiotherapy is still the standard approach in clinical stage IIA/B seminoma, whereas in patients with a low tumour burden of NSGCT, retroperitoneal lymphadenectomy is frequently used followed by surveillance or adjuvant chemotherapy. Primary chemotherapy in these stages of disease may be at least equally successful.

Major progress has also been achieved in the treatment of NSGCT patients with metastatic disease greater than clinical stage IIB, for whom primary chemotherapy represents the standard approach. After cisplatin-based combination chemotherapy, between 70 and 90% of patients will achieve a durable remission. In patients with ‘good risk’ metastatic disease, 3 cycles of cisplatin, etoposide and bleomycin (PEB) remain the standard treatment, despite several randomised trials trying to avoid the lung-toxic bleomycin or substituting cisplatin by carboplatin. In patients with ‘intermediate’ and ‘poor prognosis’ disease, 4 cycles of PEB given at 3-week intervals are considered routine treatment.

The role of high dose chemotherapy with peripheral autologous blood stem cell transplantation is currently being investigated for patients presenting initially with advanced (poor prognosis) metastatic disease and for patients with relapse after previous chemotherapy, in whom conventional-dose salvage regimens will only result in 20% long-term survival.

Because of the large group of patients with metastatic disease being cured, the possible long-term adverse effects of treatment have become important. Only a slightly elevated risk for therapy-related secondary malignancies has been identified. Long-term adverse effects associated with cisplatin may affect a larger proportion of patients. Further research should focus on reducing the risk of chemotherapy-related chronic toxicity.