There continue to be several controversies surrounding the role for retroperitoneal lymphadenectomy (RPL) in the management of patients with germ cell cancer of the testis. The initial treatment options for those with clinical stage I disease are surveillance (orchiectomy only), RPL or chemotherapy. Survival rates are similar with RPL and surveillance. Surgical morbidity has been reduced as techniques for RPL continue to improve. The likelihood of early or late (>2 years) recurrence in the retroperitoneum is almost eliminated by RPL. Fewer follow-up computerized tomography scans of the abdomen are required and there are opportunities to reduce the duration and methods of follow-up, compared with surveillance.
For patients with stage II disease, chemotherapy and RPL are equally effective initial treatment options but many patients require a combined approach. Initial RPL should be reserved for patients with smaller volume disease and possibly with lower preoperative marker levels. With RPL, patients are accurately staged and cured most of the time without double treatment. Approximately 30% of those with larger masses will have residual disease after initial chemotherapy and will require RPL as a second treatment.
The third indication for RPL is to excise residual retroperitoneal masses following primary chemotherapy. Models to predict the presence of residual viable tumor, rather than necrosis only, at the time of surgery have been developed. If the orchiectomy specimen contained no teratoma, the tumor markers normalize after three or four courses of chemotherapy, and if the residual mass on computerized tomography scan is less than 2 cm in diameter, the rate of viable tumor may be low enough to omit RPL. In this way, the greater morbidity often associated with post-chemotherapy RPL may be avoided.