Gonadal function in men with testicular cancer: biological and clinical aspects

APMIS. 1998 Jan;106(1):24-34; discussion 34-6. doi: 10.1111/j.1699-0463.1998.tb01316.x.


This paper reviews current knowledge about the effect of testicular germ cell cancer (TGCC) on gonadal function and of cancer treatment on spermatogenesis and Leydig cell function. It is well documented that testicular cancer is associated with impaired spermatogenic function and some patients already have impairment of Leydig cell function before orchidectomy. The degree of spermatogenic dysfunction is higher than what can be explained by local tumour effect and by a general cancer effect, since patients with other malignant diseases have normal, or only slightly decreased, semen quality. Furthermore, sperm counts after orchidectomy are further reduced to less than half of the values in healthy men, even in patients cured from the cancer disease after orchidectomy alone. These observations are supported by histological investigations which have shown a high prevalence of abnormalities of spermatogenesis in the contralateral testis in patients with unilateral TGCC. The association between testicular cancer and poor gonadal function is very interesting both from a biological and from a therapeutic point of view. Firstly, the increase in incidence of testicular cancer has been suggested to be associated with a general decline in male reproductive health and it seems likely that the development of TGCC shares common aetiologic factors with development of other types of testicular dysfunction. This suggestion is supported by the observation that men with various types of gonadal dysfunction such as testicular dysgenesis, androgen insensitivity syndrome, and cryptorchidism have increased risk of testicular cancer. Secondly, the general cure rate in patients with testicular cancer exceeds 90% and the quality of life, including fertility aspects, is therefore important in the management of these patients. Spermatogenesis is already so severely impaired before treatment that fertility is lower than in healthy men. Moreover, radiotherapy and chemotherapy both induce dose-dependent impairment of spermatogenesis and recovery of spermatogenesis after treatment may be long lasting even more than five years in some patients. Sufficient androgen production is seen in the majority of the patients, but some patients suffer from testosterone deficiency. The effect of chemotherapy on Leydig cell function also seems to be dose-dependent. In conclusion there is no doubt that testicular cancer is associated with poor gonadal function even before treatment. Furthermore, the treatment of testicular cancer may have a serious impact on the gonadal function in these patients, most of whom are in the reproductive age. Moreover, the epidemiological and clinical data indicate a common aetiology between testicular germ cell cancer and other abnormalities in male reproductive health (such as infertility and cryptorchidism). These observations are in agreement with the suggestions of hormonal involvement in the aetiology of testicular cancer. Generally, men with TGCC need counselling about their reproductive function with respect to semen cryopreservation, chance of recovery of spermatogenesis, fertility, and the possible need for androgen replacement.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / adverse effects
  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / therapeutic use
  • Fertility / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Leydig Cells / drug effects
  • Leydig Cells / pathology
  • Leydig Cells / physiology
  • Male
  • Spermatogenesis / drug effects
  • Testicular Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Testicular Neoplasms / pathology
  • Testicular Neoplasms / physiopathology*
  • Testis / pathology*
  • Testis / physiopathology*