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What is an Orchidectomy For?

written by: Emma Lloyd • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 8/31/2009

Orchidectomy, also known as orchiectomy, is a procedure in which one or both testicles are removed. The procedure is most commonly carried out as a treatment for testicular cancer and prostate cancer.

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    Testicular Cancer

    In the United States, the incidence rate of testicular cancer is around 0.37%. This figure varies for other countries in the world, ranging from 0.9% in Scandinavia to 0.1% in Africa. The number of cases of diagnosed testicular cancer has risen by around 2% annually in the past three decades, most likely due to an increased rate of detection and diagnosis.

    Men who had one or two undescended testicles during puberty; around 9% of men with testicular cancer have had an undescended testicle. Men who are taking hormone treatments also have an increased risk of developing testicular cancer. The cancer is also likely to be at least partially inherited, with genetics playing a role in increased susceptibility to the cancer.

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    Prostate Cancer

    Prostate cancer, the second most common cause of cancer-related deaths in males, is a risk for men aged 50 and over. The cancer grows in the prostate gland, a small organ which produces some of the components of seminal fluid.

    As with testicular cancer, it is likely that an increased susceptibility to prostate cancer can be genetically inherited.

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    The Orchidectomy Procedure

    During an orchidectomy, one or both testicles are entirely removed. The scrotum and penis are not removed; these are left intact. The procedure can be carried out on an outpatient basis, with only a short hospital stay required in most cases. Most men find they can resume their normal activities within a couple of weeks, and make a full recovery within four weeks or less.

    Orchidectomy causes several side effects as a result of the sudden loss of hormones. The testicles are responsible for producing almost all of the body’s supply of testosterone, so testicle removal means the body undergoes significant changes. If both testicles are removed, a man may experience the following side effects:

    • Weight gain
    • Breast growth
    • Osteoporosis
    • Reduction in muscle mass
    • Hot flashes
    • Sexual dysfunction, including problems achieving or maintaining erection, sterility, and loss of sex drive.

    The nature of the side effects, and the fact that they are permanent, leads many men to choose medication to reduce testosterone levels as an alternative treatment for prostate cancer (however this is not an option for men being treated for testicular cancer).

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    References

    Bets Davis, MFA. Orchiectomy

    Frank Papanikolaou, MD. Orchiectomy, Radical