Pregnancy tests don’t provide a conclusive diagnosis for testicular cancer; not all testicular cancers produce the hormone detected by pregnancy tests
Pregnancy tests are designed to detect the presence of a protein known as human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) in urine, which is produced in high amounts during pregnancy. However, certain forms of testicular cancers also produce HCG, meaning that pregnancy tests can also detect such testicular cancers. However, since not all testicular cancers produce HCG, a negative pregnancy test doesn’t prove that a person doesn’t have testicular cancer.
Misleading: Pregnancy tests detect the hormone human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), which is also produced by some testicular cancers. A pregnancy test can detect testicular cancers that produce HCG, however because not every testicular cancer produces HCG, a negative result does not rule out a cancer diagnosis.
On 15 September 2021, a Facebook video was shared about how men can use pregnancy tests to diagnose testicular cancer. In the video, three men checked the results of their pregnancy tests and claimed that a positive result would “show high hormone levels linked to testicular cancer”.
As we’ll show below, while it’s true that some testicular cancers produce the same hormone detected by pregnancy tests, not all testicular cancers produce this hormone, so a pregnancy test is not a conclusive method for diagnosing testicular cancer.
All cancers begin when cells in the body grow uncontrollably; testicular cancers include cancers that start in the testicles, the pair of organs that produce sperm and hormones like testosterone.
Testicular cancers are relatively common, affecting 1 in 270 men, but they have an excellent cure rate: more than 95% of men with testicular cancer are cured.
The most common symptom of testicular cancer is a lump on the testicle or a larger testicle, both of which can be identified during routine medical exams or self-exams. Diagnosing a possible testicular cancer requires a few tests, such as a scrotal ultrasound to image tumors, and a blood test for testicular tumor markers. According to the American Cancer Society, “many testicular cancers make high levels of certain proteins called tumor markers”.
One of these tumor markers is a hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG). HCG is also produced during pregnancy once the fertilized egg attaches to the uterine lining. Pregnancy tests are designed to detect HCG in urine, which is why they can also detect some forms of testicular cancer. For instance, in 2012, a man who took a pregnancy test as a joke and posted the positive test online, was told to see an oncologist about testicular cancer; at the doctor’s office, a lump was found in the man’s testicle.
However, HCG isn’t the only important tumor marker made by testicular cancers. The other two are alpha-fetoprotein and lactate dehydrogenase. Testicular cancers that produce either of these but not HCG wouldn’t be detected via a pregnancy test. As such, while a positive pregnancy test can help diagnose testicular cancer, a negative test result does not rule out the diagnosis.
In a 2019 Full Fact fact check of a similar claim, Cancer Research UK’s head information nurse Martin Ledwick told Full Fact that “we definitely wouldn’t recommend relying on a pregnancy test to self-diagnose testicular cancer”, adding that since not every testicular cancer produces HCG, “someone could get false reassurance from a negative test”.
Additionally, levels of HCG in the blood can be elevated for other reasons. For instance, male hypogonadism, which is a condition in which the body does not produce enough testosterone, can lead to high HCG levels.
In short, while a positive pregnancy test can help diagnose testicular cancers that produce HCG, a negative pregnancy test should not be taken as proof that an individual doesn’t have testicular cancer. For this reason, self-diagnosing testicular cancer with a pregnancy test is not conclusive and individuals who believe they may have testicular cancer should visit an oncologist.