Medical Q&As

Testicular cancer - lymph node removal?

A 26-year-old friend of mine had one of his testicles removed a couple of months ago. The tests came back to say the cells were tested and were found to be non-cancerous. Now several weeks later he's been told that he has to go back to hospital next week as the cells were cancerous following consultations with other specialists in London and the USA. He was told that he might need to get his lymph nodes removed and that he might need to have chemotherapy. Why are the lymph nodes being removed and what is their function?

Every organ system in the body has its own regional system of lymphatic drainage consisting of lymph nodes and lymph capillaries or channels. The lymph channels are primarily concerned with absorbing material from the tissue spaces. Lymph is the name of the fluid that flows through this system. Lymph is a clear or slightly yellow watery fluid that circulates through the lymphatic system. Lymph nodes are small bean shaped bodies situated in the course of lymph vessels so that the lymph passes through them on its way to connect with the bloodstream. The lymph nodes produce lymphocytes, which are a form of white cell that can also be found circulating in the blood. The nodes also filter the lymph that passes through them and prevents any retained material from entering the bloodstream. If abnormal cells migrate from the testicle they can often be found in the specific lymph nodes that drain the testicle. Therefore in the case of testicular cancer the doctors can assess if the cancer has spread by removing the specific nodes that drain the testicle and examining them for the presence of cancer cells. If the nodes are clear it means that the cancer has been confined to the testicle. If the nodes contain cancer cells it means that the cancer has spread to the local nodes and possibly beyond. Obtaining such information is referred to as staging, which simply means establishing what stage the disease is at. Such information is used to determine which treatment protocol should then be given.