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Human chorionic gonadotropin, or HCG, can be checked through both the urine and blood. Lab tests to check HCG levels are typically run to verify pregnancy. Yet the presence of HCG in the body can also be a marker for certain types of malignant tumors, according to the American Cancer Society. A positive HCG test can be indicative of several cancers including certain sex-specific forms of the disease.
The placenta starts developing once a fertilized egg attaches to the wall of the uterus. The placenta begins to produce the hormone HCG at this time. The purpose of this hormone is to support and maintain the development of the baby. Low HCG levels during early pregnancy may signal an abnormal pregnancy and indicate miscarriage risk for this reason. HCG levels continually increase during the first trimester and then slowly drop during the rest of the pregnancy.
HCG levels are checked through blood or urine tests. Urine tests are used primarily to verify pregnancy; these can only indicate whether the hormone is present in your body or not. Blood tests, however, can provide information about how much HCG is in your body. These may also be used to evaluate pregnancies. Blood testing is also used in the diagnostic process of certain cancers. Malignant tumors can cause HCG development in both women who are not pregnant and in men.
Ovarian and testicular cancers may produce HCG, according to the American Cancer Society. Checking HCG levels not only aids in diagnosis but can also be used to evaluate the efficacy of treatment of these malignancies. HCG tests are also used to diagnose choriocarcinoma, a rare form of cancer in women. These tumors may develop from tissues remaining in the uterus after childbirth or an abortion. They may also form from tissues created in a molar pregnancy, according to the Yale Cancer Center. Molar pregnancies occur when a sperm and egg join but produce a mass of tissue rather than a fetus.
A positive HCG test outside of pregnancy can also be a sign of other cancers that affect both sexes. A case study published in the journal “Lung Cancer” in September 2008 told the story of a young woman who’d received a positive pregnancy test. The patient had worsening symptoms associated with pneumonia, however, and it was only later discovered that she had HCG-secreting lung tumors. HCG levels were also found to be a strong indicator in determining pancreatic cancer prognoses, according to a 2004 study in the journal “Oncology.” The Stanford Medicine Cancer Center reports that HCG may also be a marker of stomach and liver cancers as well.