What Is Choriocarcinoma?

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on January 19, 2022

This rare type of tumor that most often affects pregnant women is called a gestational choriocarcinoma. It is a type of gestational trophoblastic disease (GTD).

The cancer usually starts in your uterus but can spread to other parts of the body.

What Causes It?

Choriocarcinoma forms when cells that were part of the placenta in a normal pregnancy become cancerous. It can happen after a miscarriage, abortion, ectopic pregnancy, or molar pregnancy -- when an egg is fertilized, but the placenta develops into a mass of cysts instead of a fetus.

What Are the Symptoms?

If the choriocarcinoma is in your vagina, it could cause bleeding. If it has spread to your abdomen, you might also have pain or pressure there.

If it has spread to other parts of your body like your lungs or brain, you may notice:

How Is It Diagnosed?

If your doctor thinks you have choriocarcinoma, they’ll do some tests:

  • A pelvic exam to feel for lumps or unusual changes
  • A test to look for levels of a hormone called hCG. They’ll be high if you have a GTD.
  • Blood and urine tests
  • An exam to see if the cancer has spread to other parts of your body
  • Imaging tests such as CT, MRI, ultrasound, or X-ray


What Is the Treatment?

The doctor will find out the stage of your choriocarcinoma. They’ll give it a score based on how big the tumor is and if it has spread to other body parts, among other things. If your tumor is low-risk, meaning it’s small and hasn’t spread, chemotherapy is the main treatment. You’ll get it until there are no signs of cancer in your body based on hCG levels.

If your cancer is high-risk, you may need surgery and chemo, or surgery, chemo, and radiation.

Nearly all women diagnosed with the disease are cured with treatment, though it’s less likely if the disease has spread to your liver or your liver and your brain. But each case is different, and your doctor will discuss the option that’s right for you.

Can You Get Pregnant?

Your periods will go through some serious changes while you have the condition. They'll likely stop due to the high levels of hCG in your body. They may go back to normal, and then stop again if you have chemo. They should restart again and go back to normal 3 to 6 months after chemo stops.

You won't be able to get pregnant if you had a hysterectomy to remove your tumor, but this surgery is rare to treat GTDs.

You can still have a baby if you’ve had chemo. But talk to your doctor about how long to wait after treatment to start pregnancy planning.

Show Sources


National Health Service: "Persistent trophoblastic disease and choriocarcinoma."

National Cancer Institute: “Gestational Trophoblastic Disease -- Patient Version.”

Cancer Research UK: “About persistent trophoblastic disease and choriocarcinoma,” “Fertility after GTD,” “Symptoms of persistent trophoblastic disease and choriocarcinoma,” “Surgery for persistent trophoblastic disease and choriocarcinoma.”

Mayo Clinic: "Molar pregnancy: Complications," "Molar pregnancy: Definition."

Medscape: "Treatments for Gestational Trophoblastic Disease."

American Society of Clinical Oncology: "Gestational Trophoblastic Disease: Introduction," "Gestational Trophoblastic Disease: Diagnosis."

American Cancer Society: “How Is Gestational Trophoblastic Disease Staged?” "Treatment of Gestational Trophoblastic Disease by Type and Stage."

UpToDate: “Initial management of high-risk gestational trophoblastic neoplasia.”

© 2022 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved. View privacy policy and trust info