Claim: An Instagram user states that “if you’re a man and pee on a pregnancy test [kit] and it’s positive, you probably have cancer.”
Verdict: Mostly True. According to the National Library of Medicine, a positive result on a pregnancy test kit may indicate a man is suffering from a type of ‘Testicular Cancer.’
A short video posted on Instagram by a user, “@doc.gabe,” on December 25, 2022, claims that “if you’re a man and pee on a pregnancy test and it’s positive, you probably have cancer.”
The claim is followed by an explanation from the Instagram user who said,
“Creepy, but true. In certain types of testicular cancer, the tumour secretes Human Chorionic Gonadotropin, the same hormone women begin to secrete when they become pregnant.”
He captions the video as “A good reminder to perform a self-examination.”
As of the time of publishing this claim, the post had attracted 281,087 likes and 1,216 comments.
Some users have suggested that there is indeed some truth to this. A user, thefilthybookbitch commented, “I remember hearing this years and years ago when the actor Tom Green got diagnosed. He did it as a joke, and then, when it turned up positive, he found out that he had testicular cancer.”
Another user, chika.latina also commented, “This is no joke. My husband past [passed] away from testicular cancer. It was a battle since they caught it too late; yes, this post is true. He had the best attitude, and he fought hard. Cancer affects young men between the ages of 16-35. Men! Please get a check. There are always warning signs. In my husband’s case, he thought it was a hernia. He was also born with an undescended testicle. This was the main cause of his cancer. He underwent lung surgery to remove golf size tumours, testicular surgery to remove the cancerous testicle and surgery on his brain to remove a growing tumour. In addition, he had chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments. In the end, he succumbed to this awful disease.”
Others had different or contrary opinions, with such dissenting opinions saying, “…doctors don’t use this test. Instead, they charge thousands of dollars going around,” while another said, “People will believe anything on the internet.”
DUBAWA set out to discover if this test may indicate the presence of cancer in men when used.
Can pregnancy test kits detect testicular cancer?
In our verification, we consulted the US National Library of Medicine and the American Cancer Society. We also spoke to Dr Akis Afoko, a Senior Lecturer at the School of Medicine, University for Development Studies (UDS), a Consultant Urologist at Tamale Urology and Modern Surgical Center, Tamale.
The claim about males testing positive using a pregnancy test has been around for a while. Healthline posits that “using a home pregnancy test to detect testicular cancer isn’t new. The use of a urine pregnancy test for testicular cancer screening has been reported as early as the mid-1980s.”
Dr Afoko affirmed the claim, saying, “Some testicular cancers may lead to the production of Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (hCG). This is the same substance produced by the placenta in pregnancy.”
However, the Senior Lecturer added that there are other tumours or even conditions that may lead to high levels of hCG. Even though a positive hCG test from a man’s urine may result from the presence of a testicular tumour, this test has many false positive and false negative results simply because some types of testicular tumours do not produce hCG.
Dr Afoko advised against using pregnancy test kits to test for testicular cancer. He said, “This is not a recommended test for testicular cancer. Physical examination and ultrasound are recommended. If suspected lesions are found, lab tests are carried out and include hCG, alpha-fetoprotein and lactate dehydrogenase, among others.”
An online search from the National Library of Medicine also revealed that “Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (hCG) is a hormone produced primarily by syncytiotrophoblastic cells of the placenta during pregnancy. Smaller amounts of hCG are produced in the pituitary gland, the liver, and the colon. HCG is primarily metabolised by the liver, although about 20% is excreted in the urine. Trophoblastic cancers (hydatidiform mole, choriocarcinoma, and germ cell tumours) are associated with high serum levels of hCG-related molecules.
Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (hCG) is a hormone for the maternal recognition of pregnancy produced by trophoblast cells that surround a growing embryo (syncytiotrophoblast initially), which eventually forms the placenta after implantation.
Some pregnancy test kits can detect the presence of hCG, the female pregnancy hormone. Surprisingly, some cancerous tumours produce this hormone. When a man’s elevated levels of hCG are measured, it may lead to a cancer diagnosis. According to the National Library of Medicine, “Detection of hCG is also useful in evaluating trophoblastic disease, including complete and partial hydatidiform mole, post molar tumour, gestational choriocarcinoma, testicular choriocarcinoma, and placental site trophoblastic disease. In all patients, testicular, ovarian, bladder, or other malignancies should be evaluated as a source of persistently positive hCG testing.”
“HCG is a pregnancy hormone. It’s produced by the placenta, a temporary organ that only forms in female bodies when an embryo has attached to the uterine lining. And so it was kind of weird when a male friend of a Reddit user known as CappnPoopDeck peed on a home pregnancy test, and it returned positive. Turns out HCG can show up in men, too. And when it does, bad things are happening.”
Whilst quoting Katherine McGlynn, a senior investigator with the National Cancer Institute, Koerth-Baker states, “Yes, HCG in men can be a sign of a rare (and dangerous) form of testicular cancer — choriocarcinoma. This is cancer made up of syncytiotrophoblastic cells. The tumour secretes HCG because that’s what syncytiotrophoblasts do. They secrete HCG. And they don’t particularly care whether they’re secreting it into a man or a woman.”
According to an article on Webmd, MD, WebMD’s resident endocrinologist, Bruni Nazario, believes a man can test positive. He stipulates that “Yes, this is possible. Testicular cancer makes hormones, and one hormone produced is hCG, the same hormone produced by embryonic tissue during pregnancy. This cancer also produces AFP, a fetoprotein measured during pregnancy.”
Understanding testicular cancer
According to Mayo Clinic, a nonprofit organisation committed to clinical practice, education and research, “Testicular cancer is a growth of cells that starts in the testicles.”
The American Cancer Society has indicated that “the average age at the time of diagnosis of testicular cancer is about 33. This is largely a disease of young and middle-aged men, but about six per cent of cases occur in children and teens, and about eight per cent occur in men over 55. Testicular cancer is not common, and about one of every 250 males will develop testicular cancer at some point during their lifetime. Usually, testicular cancer only happens in one testicle.”
According to the Urology Care Foundation, it may not be possible to avoid risk factors for testicular cancer. However, men with the highest risk are men with a father or brother who had testicular cancer and men with a history of testes that do not drop before birth (also known as undescended testes or cryptorchidism). Abnormal cells in the testicle are called germ cell neoplasia in situ (GCNIS), most often found during an infertility test, etc.
Testicular cancer diagnosis
The Urology Care Foundation outlines some testicular self-exam. According to the Foundation, the best time to do a testicular self-exam is after a warm bath or shower while standing when the septum is relaxed. They are;
- Check each testicle. Gently but firmly roll each testicle between the thumb and forefingers. Feel the whole surface. The firmness of the test should be the same all around. It’s normal for one testis to be slightly larger than the other.
- Find the epididymis and vas deferens. These are soft, tube-like structures above and behind the testicle. These tubes collect and carry sperm.
- Look for lumps, swelling or things that don’t seem right. Lumps or bumps are not normal (even if they cause no pain) pain is not normal.
- Check yourself at least once a month. Always look for any changes in size, shape, or texture.
Research indicates that Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (hCG), which is the female pregnancy hormone, can be produced by men suffering from a rare but aggressive form of testicular cancer called choriocarcinoma. Choriocarcinoma tumours secrete HCG, identical to the hormone secreted by the placentas. Therefore, a man suffering from choriocarcinoma can test positive after using a pregnancy test.
But does testing positive always mean a man has testicular cancer?
Also, false-positive tests are common. This, therefore, means that not all positive results from pregnancy test kits by men are testicular cancer.
Available research backs the claim that a positive result on a pregnancy test kit may indicate a man is suffering from a type of ‘Testicular Cancer’. However, this may not always be the case since not all positive results from pregnancy tests by men are testicular cancer.
This report was produced under the DUBAWA Non-urban Journalists Mentorship project aimed at promoting a culture of truth and verification in non-urban newsrooms in Ghana with support from the US Embassy in Ghana.