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Preventing infertility in men who undergo lymph node removal surgery for testicular cancer

Dr. Nicholas Power is studying the nerves involved in fertility that are affected in this surgery

A representation of the anatomic technical considerations when completing lymph node dissection in the retroperitoneum

A representation of the anatomic technical considerations when completing lymph node dissection in the retroperitoneum, where surgeons locate lymph nodes most commonly affected by testicular cancer that has spread.

LHSC: Victoria Hospital - 

When patients with testicular cancer undergo lymph node removal surgery there is a risk that their fertility will be affected if proper nerve sparing techniques are not used. Up to 75 per cent of men will not be able to father children if they receive the surgery without these techniques.

Lawson’s Internal Research Fund (IRF) has awarded a grant to Dr. Nicholas Power, a researcher at Lawson and urologic oncologist at London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC), who is leading a study to identify the nerves involved in fertility that are affected in lymph node removal surgery for testicular cancer.

“Sometimes patients go through a lot to be cured of testicular cancer only to be left dealing with long-term survivorship issues such as fertility. We hope to gain new insights into how fertility can be preserved after these men receive lymph node removal surgery,” says Dr. Power, who is also an assistant professor at Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry.

In collaboration with Schulich assistant professors Dr. Marjorie Johnson and Dr. Brian Allman, and PhD candidate Tyler Beveridge, Dr. Power published initial results in The Journal of Urology announcing their discovery of a brand new anatomic structure, the pre-hypogastric ganglion, which needs to be spared in surgery to maintain fertility. They were also able to describe the first roadmap of retroperitoneal neuroanatomy – the anatomy of nerves in the space where surgeons locate lymph nodes most commonly affected by testicular cancer that has spread.

“There has never been a definitive anatomic study of the nerves of the retroperitoneum so it was our goal to provide the first comprehensive study of the nerves as they relate directly to patients who have testicular cancer,” explains Dr. Power. “After we published the initial results we were approached by textbook authors to use our data in upcoming editions of anatomy and surgical atlases. This will help to provide insight into nerve sparing techniques for surgeons who have not been trained at high-volume centers and ultimately improve the quality of care in testicular cancer patients overall.”

Already Dr. Power has found that using this knowledge when he performs lymph node removal surgery for testicular cancer has led to a 95 per cent success rate of preserving fertility.

The IRF will go towards their research to further investigate the actual function and physiology of the retroperitoneal neuroanatomy using a pig model.

“Lawson’s IRF provides incredible support for a field of study such as ours that is not yet at the stage of applying for a large grant. Receiving the funding gives us the independence to test out novel yet important hypotheses that will then lead us to further grants,” says Dr. Power.

Dr. Power

Above: Dr. Nicholas Power

The IRF is designed to provide Lawson scientists and students the opportunity to obtain start-up funds for new projects with the potential to obtain larger funding, be published in a high-impact journal, or provide a clinical benefit to patients. Funding is provided by the clinical departments of London Health Sciences Centre and St. Joseph’s Health Care London, as well as the hospital foundations (London Health Sciences Foundation and St. Joseph’s Health Care Foundation).

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