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Could Pregnancy Tests help screen for Testicular Cancer?

Hajra Hussain discusses the peculiar phenomenon that allowed a test to pick up a case of testicular cancer.

When looking for a subject to write about, I couldn't just pick anything, it had to be something with an element of weirdness, so the idea that instantly came to mind was this urban legend I came across when I was 14. It was about a man urinating on a pregnancy test (as a joke), only to find the result to be positive - unless this man was incubating a foetus, the result must have been a fluke. However, the story was shared to reddit and upon receiving advice, the man in question went to the GP, where after a few tests he was diagnosed with a form of testicular cancer.

Now, one may wonder how could this even happen? So let us dive into the science behind a pregnancy test: ‘monoclonal antibodies’ are attached to the end of a pregnancy test stick onto which a woman urinates. If she is pregnant, human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) will be present in her urine and bind to the monoclonal antibodies on the test stick. This will cause a change in colour or pattern which would indicate pregnancy[1].

The cancer, in this case, produced HCG which bound to the monoclonal antibodies of the test strip and generated a positive result. The story had me thinking: “Why not roll out pregnancy tests to suspected cancer patients, then? Lessens the burden on the NHS and we get to have a non-invasive way to diagnose cancer.”

However, this wouldn't be effective as not all cancers produce HCG, and whilst in this case the cancer in question did produce HCG, a pregnancy test shouldn’t be the first resort. In actuality, it would be dangerous to rely on pregnancy tests to diagnose cancer. For example, if one had cancer and said cancer didn’t produce HCG, the test would show up negative and invoke a false sense of security.

The case in question also opened my eyes to the different methods of cancer diagnosis:

  • Physical exams - where your doctor examines for lumps in the body.

  • Laboratory tests - running a sample of urine or blood and assessing the white blood cell count.

  • Imaging tests - allowing your doctor to examine your bones and internal organs in a non-invasive way, such as via CT, PET, X-ray, or other methods.

  • Biopsy - when your doctor takes a sample of cells from the suspected tumour and sends them to the lab for analysis; according to the Mayo Clinic, in most situations, a biopsy is the only way to definitively diagnose cancer.

Whilst the story was quite unique and definitely prompted a better understanding of cancer, diagnosis, and pregnancy tests, one must always resort to a more reliable method for checking for testicular cancer, and according to the NHS, “Typical symptoms are a painless swelling or lump in 1 of the testicles, or any change in shape or texture of the testicles. It's important to be aware of what feels normal for you.”[2]

So if there’s anything you can take away from this, then it’s to get to know your body better!


This article was written by Hajra Hussain.

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