For several years, internet gossip has circulated regarding the ability of pregnancy tests to detect testicular cancer. Today we’ll look at the accumulated facts regarding the claim that a home pregnancy test can detect testicular cancer.
Home Pregnancy Test Discovers Testicular Cancer
In Fall of 2012, a Reddit user with the alias “CappnPoopdeck” posted a short, amateurish cartoon supposedly depicting an anonymous friend who, in an attempt at humor, made use of an ex-girlfriend’s home pregnancy test that had been abandoned in a bathroom cupboard. According to the cartoon, the unidentified male was shocked to receive a positive test response indicating pregnancy. The post stirred excitement and received over 1300 comments in three days, many advising the subject of the caricature to be tested for testicular cancer. Several days later, a followup comic strip allegedly claimed that the nameless confidant was diagnosed with treatable, early-stage testicular cancer. Although identities remained concealed, and the information informally unsubstantiated, the drama became a bombshell that was surprisingly reported on by mainstream media.
Simple Science Confirms the Possibility
Despite anonymity and a suspect story, it does appear to be accurate that a home pregnancy test could potentially test positive on a male with testicular cancer. In an interview with Fox 59 of Indianapolis, oncologist at St. Vincent Hospital, Dr. Niraj Gupta replied, “Technically there is some basis to the claim that it could be used for diagnosing or detecting testicular cancer.” He explains that despite the fact that the science is informal, beta human chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG) “…is a hormone produced by some testicular cancers, and the home urinare pregnancy test does test for that hormone.” Apparently, HCG is generated by pregnant woman who are fostering a placenta. Oncologist Dr. Mark Pomerantz of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston agrees: “It turns out a fair number of testicular cancers make the same exact hormone… There are very few things in the body that produce beta hCG, and testicular cancer is one of them.”
A Healthy Dose of Skepticism
WXYZ in Detroit, MI reports that the American Cancer Society admits that this scenario is a possibility, but also that a pregnancy test may be unreliable in this regard, and that there are more efficient tests for detecting testicular cancer. One suspicious aspect of the initial Reddit postings is that it is claimed that the friend’s testicular cancer was identified in the early stages. According to Dr. Gupta, men should not put confidence in a pregnancy test in attempts to diagnose testicular cancer: “A majority of the men who have early testicular cancer do not have high enough values of HCG that can be measured by a home urine pregnancy test.” Even the appropriate title of the Fox 59 article seems to question the original account’s authenticity: “Why would a man take a pregnancy test?” This doesn’t mean that the original story is untrue, only that it deserves to be viewed through skeptical eyes.
Despite skepticism, there have been reports of men discovering testicular cancer with home pregnancy tests. In March 2015, an 18-year old was diagnosed with testicular cancer after his urine was checked against a pregnancy test. As noted above, however, his cancer was not in the early stages, but was stage four and had already spread to other parts of his body.
In 2015 the Testicular Cancer Awareness Foundation offered the following summary:
“…properly detecting and diagnosing testicular cancer is a bit more complicated than just taking a pregnancy test. There’s only one sub-type of testicular cancer that a pregnancy test will detect every single time, and that’s choricarcinoma, but which tends to be more rare. It’s a crap shoot with all of the other sub-types, as only some “can” emit the HCG marker, and others won’t do so at all. Reader beware!”
The Appropriate Way to Test for Testicular Cancer
Testicular cancer is rare and remarkably treatable with a high survival rate, yet The American Cancer Society recommends that men regularly perform self-examinations in order to investigate the potentiality. Its website contains directions on how these self-examinations should be implemented. Primary evidence of testicular cancer is generally the discovery of a hard, painless bump on a testicle. Deputy chairman of urology at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Dr. Christopher Wood explains, “It’s typically spotted by the guy himself… We recommend men do self-exam in the shower once a month to make sure there aren’t any major changes.”
The Testicular Cancer Awareness Foundation also notes, “If you detect a mass or have other signs and symptoms, feel free to take a pregnancy test, but please do the proper thing and get to a doctor immediately regardless of what any pregnancy test might say.”
Although there is some truth to the claim that home pregnancy tests can detect some testicular cancers, the accuracy of such a test is considered unreliable. Regular self examination is still the recommended way to screen for testicular cancer.
Updated July 14, 2015
Originally published June 2014