Long-term complications of chemotherapy for germ cell tumours

Drugs. 2003;63(15):1565-77. doi: 10.2165/00003495-200363150-00004.


Testicular cancer is the most common solid tumour among young males aged 15-35 years. Cisplatin-based combination chemotherapy has changed the outlook of this disease. Disseminated testicular cancer, once uniformly fatal, now has a cure rate of more than 80% with combination chemotherapy. Systematic randomised trials have shown that cisplatin, etoposide and bleomycin (PEB) combination chemotherapy remains the mainstay of treatment. While there is a high cure rate with chemotherapy in patients with this disease, some long-term complications from chemotherapy have now been recognised, including secondary leukaemia, therapy-related solid tumours, nephrotoxicity, neurotoxicity, pulmonary toxicity, vascular toxicity and infertility. Etoposide, a DNA topoisomerase II inhibitor, is a significant risk factor for developing leukaemia; the risk appears to be correlated with the total dose given. Patients receiving cisplatin-based combination chemotherapy for testicular cancer also appear to have a higher relative risk for developing second non-germ cell malignancies; the greatest risks for therapy-related solid tumours were seen with a combination of radiation therapy plus chemotherapy. Long-term vascular toxicities associated with chemotherapy include Raynaud's phenomenon, acute myocardial infarction and cerebrovascular events. Bleomycin is thought to be the most important drug in the pathogenesis of Raynaud's phenomenon, while cisplatin is the most likely agent involved in myocardial infarction. Peripheral neuropathy is the most common form of neurotoxicity observed with cisplatin-based chemotherapy. Risk factors for the development of neural damage include a high cumulative dose of cisplatin, the use of vinblastine and the concomitant development of Raynaud's phenomenon. Cisplatin is also well known to cause significant nephrotoxicity. Approximately 25% of patients present with azoospermia after undergoing combination chemotherapy with a follow up of 2-5 years. Physician awareness of complications associated with chemotherapy is vital to maximise efficacy, minimise toxicity, and preserve quality of life after treatment. Sperm cryopreservation should be considered for patients who desire children. Close monitoring during therapy allows for the early diagnosis of complications, and close follow up of patients after the completion of therapy is necessary to monitor for relapse and development of long-term complications such as myelodysplastic syndrome and leukaemia. Despite these complications, given the potential for cure rates in this young group of patients, the benefits far outweigh the risks.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / adverse effects*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / adverse effects*
  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / therapeutic use
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Germinoma / drug therapy*
  • Humans
  • Infertility / chemically induced
  • Kidney Diseases / chemically induced
  • Lung Diseases / chemically induced
  • Male
  • Neoplasms / chemically induced
  • Peripheral Nervous System Diseases / chemically induced
  • Risk Factors
  • Testicular Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Time Factors
  • Vascular Diseases / chemically induced


  • Antineoplastic Agents