Home pregnancy tests, such as these in a Paris pharmacy, are not considered reliable screening tools for men to screen for testicular cancer ( AFP / Martin Bureau)

Pregnancy tests not a reliable testicular cancer screening tool

Copyright AFP 2017-2021. All rights reserved.

A video viewed more than 300,000 times on Facebook claims men can screen for testicular cancer using home pregnancy test kits to detect abnormal levels of a hormone that is a marker of the disease. But medical experts say a negative test using this method does not rule out cancer, and relying on it could be dangerous.

"Everyone NEEDS TO KNOWS THIS!!" says text accompanying the video in a September 15, 2021 Facebook post.

( Rob Lever)

In the clip, a presenter displays cards and goes step-by-step through a process of reading results from home pregnancy test kits to check for cancer.

The same video circulated on Facebook in July, while the pregnancy test claim appeared on the site here, on Twitter here and here and on Instagram here.

The tests do detect the presence of the hormone HGC (human chorionic gonadotropin), which in women can be an indicator of pregnancy and in men may indicate testicular cancer. But medical experts say this is not an advisable diagnostic tool. 

"While it is certainly possible that someone was diagnosed with testicular cancer after a positive pregnancy test, this is not a reliable way to screen for this disease," said Samuel Haywood, a specialist in urologic oncology at the Cleveland Clinic's Glickman Urological and Kidney Institute.

"Some testicular tumors secrete HCG, a hormone that is more commonly known as produced by the developing placenta. However, not all testicular tumors do, so relying on this could miss some testicular cancers," Haywood said.

"Men should perform monthly testicular self-exams, and make sure they are seen by their physician if they notice any new swelling or lumps in the testicles," he added.

Bradley McGregor, clinical director of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute's Lank Center for Genitourinary Oncology at Harvard University, gave a similar response.

"HCG is the marker that when markedly elevated can cause a urine pregnancy test to be positive as this is the same protein that is made when a woman is pregnant," McGregor said.

"If a testicular tumor is producing HCG this may result in a positive urine pregnancy test. However as not all tumors produce HCG and even if it does (the) level may be lower than (what is considered dangerous). A negative urine pregnancy test does not rule out a cancer," he said.

McGregor added that men may get a false sense of security from a negative test using a pregnancy kit and "may be delaying the appropriate treatment for a very curable cancer."

Earlier this year, the University of Texas MD Anderson Center published a blog post pointing out the risks of relying on pregnancy tests for this purpose, responding to prior social media posts on the topic.

"There's no advantage to relying on a pregnancy test to self-diagnose testicular cancer. It's even dangerous to do so," the post quoted urologist Christopher Wood as saying. "Some forms of testicular cancer cause elevated HCG levels, but others don't." 

According to the American Cancer Society, about 1 of every 250 males will develop testicular cancer at some point during their lifetime, with the average age at the time of diagnosis around 33. But it can usually be successfully treated, and a man's lifetime risk of dying from this cancer is very low: about 1 in 5,000.

AFP has debunked other inaccurate health-related claims circulating on social media here.