Choriocarcinomas for women

The information on this page was reviewed and approved by

Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science at CTCA.

This page was updated on December 2, 2021.

Choriocarcinomas are rare cancers that most often occur in the uterus. This cancer type originates in trophoblast cells, which help form the placenta during pregnancy. However, this cancer can be either gestational (during pregnancy) or non-gestational (outside of pregnancy term).

Choriocarcinomas tend to grow quickly and can spread to other areas of the body, including:

  • Uterine muscle
  • Blood vessels
  • Lymph nodes
  • Near and distant organs, including lungs, liver and kidneys

It’s one of several types of gestational trophoblastic diseases (GTDs), and it often occurs in women with molar (abnormal) pregnancies. They are uncommon, though, as choriocarcinomas account for 5 percent of GTDs, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).

In rare cases, this cancer type can develop in men who have a mixed germ cell tumor. Treatment can have positive, long-term outcomes, especially if the choriocarcinoma is caught early.

If you or a relative has been diagnosed with a choriocarcinoma, below is an overview to help you learn more about this type of cancer.

Symptoms of choriocarcinomas for women

Some women with choriocarcinomas may notice the following symptoms:

  • Irregular vaginal bleeding, especially in women who’ve just been pregnant or experienced a molar pregnancy
  • Pain or discomfort in the uterine area or ovaries

These symptoms don’t necessarily indicate cancer, however. Choriocarcinomas, as compared with other kinds of cancer, are extremely rare and occur in about two to seven out of every 100,000 pregnancies in the United States, according to ASCO.

Anyone who is concerned about reproductive health or has noticed body changes should consult with a doctor.

Causes of choriocarcinomas for women

Choriocarcinomas are caused when cells that usually form the placenta become cancerous, so this cancer type occurs after egg fertilization. Cells left in the womb after fertilization become cancerous.

Risk factors for choriocarcinomas for women

Women who’ve experienced these types of pregnancies may be at higher risk for developing choriocarcinomas:

  • Molar pregnancy
  • Ectopic pregnancy
  • Abortion Miscarriage
  • Normal pregnancy and birth

Choriocarcinomas don’t necessarily develop right after pregnancy. They can sometimes occur months or years later.

A few other risk factors to consider include:

  • Age at the time of pregnancy—being younger than 20 or older than 35
  • Low levels of vitamin A and carotene during pregnancy
  • Blood types A or AB
  • Family history of molar pregnancies

Diagnosing choriocarcinomas for women

If choriocarcinomas are suspected, doctors have access to a number of diagnostic tools. The doctor visit may start with a pelvic examination, checking the uterus and ovaries for a change in size. A pregnancy test is often used also, because a hormone known as HCG is found in high levels in women with choriocarcinomas.

Other commonly used diagnostic tools include:

It’s normal for a patient to feel nervous or scared, but a care team can help. Specialists within the team help talk patients through what happens next and what to expect. Patients shouldn’t hesitate to ask questions if they’re unsure about anything being said.

Treating choriocarcinomas for women

In most choriocarcinoma cases, the cancer is treated with chemotherapy, which is a medical treatment to destroy cancer cells using drugs. It’s usually given intravenously or orally and is a very successful treatment option for choriocarcinomas.

Sometimes, radiation and/or a hysterectomy may be used. Treatment decisions are made by patients and their doctors and depend on many factors, including age, overall health, and personal goals and preferences.

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