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Biology

Pregnancy hormone as a symptom of prostate cancer, what?

It’s Movember! A month geared towards raising awareness of men’s health issues. The focus is particularly on prostate and testicular cancers and mental health awareness. However, because men typically have a shorter life span than women (4 years on average in Canada), and are more reluctant to talk about their health, both mental and physical, Movember has grown into a world wide movement to raise funds and awareness, as well as break down barriers to men’s health. It may seem strange but a hormone, hCG, human chorionic gonadotropin, most commonly connected with pregnancy, is linked with prostate cancer. During pregnancy, hCG is produced by the chorion, one of the membranes around the developing embryo, in order to maintain high levels of two other hormones (estrogen and progesterone). Once the placenta develops it produces the estrogen and progesterone and the levels of hCG drop but still remain present. This is vital to the pregnancy, if the levels of estrogen and progesterone drop the uterine lining will be shed resulting in a miscarriage. In the past several years, hCG has hit the media for two other reasons: as a diet supplement and in relation to prostate cancer. My purpose here is not to address the diet supplement but I can’t let it go without saying something. The idea with this diet is to consume hCG supplements in connection with a severely calorie restricted diet, as in 500 calories a day (Robb-Nicholson, 2010). There is no reliable scientific evidence that hCG provides weight benefits (Lijesen, et al, 1995). If you only consume 500 calories a day, you’re going to lose weight. But 500 calories a day is not enough to power your daily energy needs, even if all you do is sit in your office chair and in front of the tv. This diet is not recommended by the FDA. Okay, with that out of the way, let’s talk about hCG and prostate cancer. One of the reasons that this has hit the media is that hCG is the hormone that is being detected by home pregnancy tests, so if hCG is a symptom of prostate cancer, among some other cancers, could men do regular tests with home pregnancy kits and have reliable early detection? Sadly no. The hormone is present in individuals with prostate cancer and not in those without. Unfortunately, the levels are so low that they evade consistent detection (Daia, et al, 2000). So yes, it is indicative of cancer, but it is not detected at high enough rates to use this as early detection. So why do men with prostate cancer secrete a pregnancy hormone? It is the cancerous cells themselves that produce the hCG and prostate cancer isn’t the only type to do so. But the relationship between hCG and cancer is extremely complex. While elevated levels of the hormone may indicate cancer, there is some evidence that hCG might be used to suppress certain types of cancer, particularly breast cancer (Iles, Delves, & Butler, 2010). During cancer treatments, you may have tests done to find out what your hCG levels are. Dropping levels can be associated with reduced cancerous cells. However, this is still something that needs to be done by medical professionals, the home pregnancy kit isn’t going to cut it. Movember Canada

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About Peyto

I am passionate about making science, sustainability, and sport accessible through engaging information and activities. Peyto is a reference to Bill Peyto who was an outfitter, trapper, and eventually a park warden in Banff National Park. Peyto Lake and Peyto Glacier are both named after him. He is also a distant relative of mine.

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