Causes and Risk Factors of Choriocarcinoma

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Choriocarcinoma is a type of cancer that grows inside the uterus. The cause of choriocarcinoma is abnormal tissue that develops after sperm fertilizes an egg inside the womb.

This article will explain choriocarcinoma's causes and risk factors.

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Common Causes 

Anyone who has a uterus can get choriocarcinoma. This type of cancer begins in the uterus after a sperm fertilizes the egg. It is possible to develop choriocarcinoma, even if you have a normal pregnancy and gave birth to a healthy child. 

There is a slight risk of developing choriocarcinoma if you:

  • Are currently pregnant
  • Were recently pregnant
  • Had an abortion 
  • Had a miscarriage
  • Had an ectopic pregnancy (fertilized egg is implanted outside the uterus)
  • Had a molar pregnancy (noncancerous tumor in the uterus)
  • Had a genital tumor 

Genetics 

Genetics does not appear to affect the chances of having choriocarcinoma. Researchers have not found a direct link between specific genes or mutations and this type of cancer. It is possible that further research may reveal a genetic link. 

However, having a family history of abnormal pregnancies may increase your risk of developing choriocarcinoma. It does not guarantee you will have cancer, though, and researchers do not know the exact percentage your risk increases.

Risk Factors

The biggest risk factor for getting choriocarcinoma is having a hydatidiform mole (HM)—a rare mass that grows in the uterus at the start of pregnancy. This condition is also called a molar pregnancy. The mole looks like a sac filled with fluid, but it can turn into a tumor and become cancerous.

HM is another type of gestational trophoblastic disease, and about half of all people who get choriocarcinoma also develop HM.

Other risk factors include:

  • Having a history of molar pregnancy
  • Having a history of miscarriage
  • Having a history of ectopic pregnancy
  • Being pregnant under the age of 20 or over the age of 35
  • Having high levels of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) hormone 
  • Having low levels of carotene and vitamin A 
  • Having A or AB blood type
  • Having a family history of molar pregnancy
  • Smoking

It is important to remember that risk factors increase the likelihood you may get cancer. However, a risk factor does not cause the disease. You may have multiple risk factors and not get cancer. As well, other people may not have any of the known risks and still develop the condition. 

Most risk factors for choriocarcinoma are out of your control. But if you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, it's a good idea to avoid smoking. If you need help quitting, talk to your healthcare provider about support groups and other resources at your disposal.  

Summary 

The common cause of choriocarcinoma is abnormal tissue that develops after sperm fertilizes an egg in the body. This cancer is more likely to occur if you have a hydatidiform mole, or molar pregnancy. 

A Word From Verywell

It is helpful to understand that different factors can cause choriocarcinoma. It is also important to remember that you cannot control whether this type of cancer develops. Although you may be able to reduce certain risk factors, you cannot prevent choriocarcinoma.

If you have choriocarcinoma, consider joining a cancer support group. These groups allow you to talk to and share information with other people who have similar experiences. In addition to gaining knowledge, you will have a safe place to discuss frustrations and problems. 

Some cancer support groups allow your loved ones to attend. Together, you can discuss topics such as relationship changes or navigating financial concerns. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can you get choriocarcinoma after a normal pregnancy?

    Yes, it is possible to have a normal, full-term pregnancy resulting in a birth and still get choriocarcinoma.

  • Does having a full-term pregnancy or not reaching full term affect the risk of getting choriocarcinoma?

    The length of your pregnancy does not influence the risk of getting this type of cancer. Even people who have full-term pregnancies can develop choriocarcinoma.

  • Does having a family member who had choriocarcinoma increase a person's risk of getting this cancer?

    Researchers have not found a direct genetic link to this type of cancer. Having a family member with choriocarcinoma may or may not affect your risk of getting the cancer.

  • When can a choriocarcinoma develop?

    Choriocarcinoma can develop during or after pregnancy. It can appear weeks, months, or years after you are pregnant. 

  • What are the benefits of knowing the risk factors for choriocarcinoma?

    Understanding the risk factors can help you make informed decisions about your health and your future. Talk to your doctor about the risk of having choriocarcinoma and discuss if there are any ways to lower your risk.

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3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. MedlinePlus. Choriocarcinoma. Updated September 1, 2021.

  2. National Cancer Institute. Gestational trophoblastic disease treatment (PDQ®)–health professional version. Updated July 31, 2020.

  3. American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). Gestational trophoblastic disease: types of treatment. Updated November 2020.