In 2012, someone posted a short comic on Reddit about a male friend who took an ex-girlfriend’s home pregnancy test as joke and somehow ended up getting a positive result. It turned out, however, that the man that this comic was based on actually had testicular cancer. Indeed, Doctors agree that a false positive pregnancy test can, in fact, be an indication – albeit a rather unreliable one – that you might have testicular or pancreatic cancer.
How do home pregnancy tests work in this way?
Most home pregnancy tests detect human chorionic gonadotropin hormone (HCG) or alpha fetoprotein (AFP), which are produced by the placenta and the uterus respectively after implantation of an embryo. The function of HCG is to allow pregnant women to secrete progesterone during the first trimester. This progesterone will help increase blood supply to the fetus by enhancing the uterine blood vessels. HCG can also protect a growing fetus by repelling cells in the mother’s immune system that see the fetus as a foreign invader. The function of AFP is associated with development of certain sex characteristics of a fetus.
However, some medical conditions also cause the secretion of HCG and AFP. For example, tumors associated with the uterus, such as gestational trophoblastic disease (GTD) and non-trophoblastic neoplasms, are known for causing pregnancy tests to come up with a false positive result for women.
Men do not usually take pregnancy tests, but the 2012 a Reddit user seemed to have a male friend who took a pregnancy test just to be funny. The test told him that he was pregnant and Reddit users started insisting that he needed to go see a doctor to get tested for cancer. He later found out that he did, in fact, have testicular cancer that was fortunately caught in its very early stages. Since high content AFP and HCG in the blood is often used as a tumor marker of testicular cancer, it makes sense that a pregnancy test could detect cancer.
In response to this story, many male Reddit users – as well as men who simply heard about the story – started trying to buy themselves home pregnancy tests in order to see if they had cancer.
Doctors agree that if you are one of these men who got a positive result from a pregnancy test, it is true that you might have cancer. Common tumors that pregnancy tests may be able to detect include certain pancreatic cancers and germ cell tumors like seminomas and teratomas.
However, research shows that testicular cancer does not always result in the secretion of HCG or AFP. For example, cancers such as sex cord-gonadal stromal tumors are not commonly associated with high levels of HCG. You should, therefore, not rely on pregnancy testing to detect testicular cancer. It might be an easy way to find out if you have have many of the common markers associated with cancer, but you need to pay attention to other symptoms of cancer as well.
Additionally, widespread pregnancy testing for men is an unnecessary precaution because it would simply generate a lot unwarranted fear. While testicular cancer is common among younger adult men (and, for the last 40 years, rates have been increasing for men of all ages), it still does not affect enough people to make extensive testing crucial. Instead, you should simply remain alert for many of the common signs and symptoms of cancer.
What are some of the other signs and symptoms of testicular cancer?
As is the case for many types of cancer, look for lumps and swelling. During the earlier stages of the cancer, tumors can be the size of a small marble, but they can be much larger as the cancer progresses. Any pain, discomfort, or change in the testicles can also be an indicator. Do not ignore pain in your lower back, abdomen, or anywhere else, especially if the pain is persistent.
Many testicular cancer patients specifically report discomfort in their abdomen, especially a dull ache in the lower abdomen. Some tumors produce hormones that induce gynecomastia, which is the development of breast growth and tenderness. Blood clots are also often an early sign of testicular cancer. Swelling of one or both legs and shortness of breath are both common symptoms of blood clots caused by testicular cancer. Later stages of cancer can cause shortness of breath, chest pain, and bloody phlegm.
If you experience any of these symptoms, you should go see a doctor. You also want to be extra cautious if you have or have had conditions such as cryptorchidism, other conditions associated with abnormal testicular development, or a family history of testicular cancer or of any other type of cancer. White men also tend to be slightly more susceptible to testicular cancer.
Do not wait if you notice any of the common symptoms of cancer.
Most deaths due to testicular cancer occurs because the disease spread and could not be properly treated with chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery. In recent years, doctors have gotten much better at figuring out which treatment plans will be most effective, but common treatments become less useful if the cancer is not diagnosed before the cancer has progressed.
Early detection is key because the five year survival rate among men with testicular cancer is 99% if you are diagnosed during the very first stage of the cancer. When the cancer spreads to the abdomen and to lymph nodes in the back, the survival rate drops, but it is still at 96%. Once it continues to spread beyond these regions, 73% of men survive.
Remember that, while testicular cancer can certainly be embarrassing, the sooner you see a doctor, the better. If you are experiencing any of the common signs and symptoms, do not hesitate to talk to your healthcare providers. You have no reason to buy a pregnancy test if you are not experiencing any other cancer symptoms, but if, for whatever reason, you happen take a pregnancy test that comes up with a positive result, you should also consult your doctor.