Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors

Choriocarcinoma is a rare form of cancer in the tissues ofthe reproductive system. This type of cancer most often affectswomen. But it can also include a rare type oftesticular cancer in men.

Choriocarcinoma in women usually follows apregnancy.It is more common after a molar pregnancy.A molar pregnancy is one in which a fetus does not develop. Atumor made up of abnormal cells develops instead of a baby. Thetumor of the molar pregnancy is usually benign, which means it is not cancer.Molar pregnancies are more common in less developed parts of theworld where nutrition is poor. Choriocarcinoma is also morecommon in those areas.

What is going on in the body?

Choriocarcinoma develops from reproductive tissuecells, which are very active. When these cells undergo cancerouschanges, they grow and multiply very rapidly. A tumor forms andsheds cancer cells into the bloodstream at an early stage. Thecancer cells in the bloodstream develop new cancers in otherparts of the body, a process known as metastasis.If choriocarcinoma is not treated successfully, these tumors throughoutthe body can result in damage. And that can quickly lead to death.

What are the causes and risks of the disease?

The exact cause of choriocarcinoma is unknown. A womanwhose diet is low in proteinand other nutrients is known to be at higher risk for molarpregnancies. A woman who has had a molar pregnancy is also at highrisk for choriocarcinoma.

Symptoms & Signs

What are the signs and symptoms of the disease?

Choriocarcinoma generally causes no symptoms until thecancer is widespread. Then the symptoms will be related to themajor organs that are involved.

Diagnosis & Tests

How is the disease diagnosed?

After a molar pregnancy is diagnosed and removed,blood samples will be taken. Beta-HCG,a tumor marker, will be measured. If the levels do not drop overtime, CT scansare used. These scans help the doctor to look for a tumorremaining in the uterus or one that has spread elsewhere. If atumor is found, abiopsyis done to confirm the presence and type of cancer. In men, apiece of tissue removed from a tumor, usually in the testicle,may show this form of testicular cancer.

Prevention & Expectations

What can be done to prevent the disease?

Improving the nutritionof all pregnant women may prevent some cases of choriocarcinoma.Any woman who has had a molar pregnancy should be monitoredcarefully. Treating the cancer early is much more successful thantreating late-stage disease.

What are the long-term effects of the disease?

Choriocarcinoma can kill quickly if it is not successfullytreated.

What are the risks to others?

Choriocarcinoma is not contagious and poses no risk toothers.

Treatment & Monitoring

What are the treatments for the disease?

Treatment of choriocarcinoma can be very effective,particularly in its early stages. Chemotherapyis given because the cancer is usually widespread by the time itis diagnosed. The chemotherapy medicines are introduced into thebloodstream and are delivered throughout the body. The treatmentrequires large doses of medicine to be effective.

When the cancer has spread to the brain,radiation therapymay be given to the brain. Unfortunately, choriocarcinoma thathas spread to the brain or the liver is very hard to treat.

What are the side effects of the treatments?

The side effects of chemotherapy depend on themedicines used. Most side effects can be managed and go away whentreatment ends. A woman who has been successfully treated forchoriocarcinoma after a molar pregnancymay be able to have a normal pregnancylater.

What happens after treatment for the disease?

The person will be closely followed to make sure thecancer does not recur. If the cancer does not respond to therapy,the person will be closely followed for responses while othertherapies are tried.

How is the disease monitored?

Blood samples are taken on a regular basis to measure thelevel of beta-HCG.An increase in the level could indicate the cancer has come back.CT scansmay also be done to measure the response of the tumor totreatment or to check for recurrence.

If the treatment is successful, monitoring can be doneless often. Many women are successfully cured of this cancer. Menwith this form of testicular cancerdo not respond as well to treatment.

Article type: xmedgeneral