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Gynecol Oncol. 2006 Aug;102(2):165-72. Epub 2006 May 2.

Gestational trophoblastic diseases: 4. Presentation with persistent low positive human chorionic gonadotropin test results.

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  • 1USA hCG Reference Service, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, MSC10 5580 1, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM 87131-0001, USA. larry@hcglab.com



A high proportion of women with persistent low levels of hCG, in the absence of pregnancy or any evidence of tumor, have received chemotherapy and hysterectomy for assumed malignancy. Such chemotherapy and surgery were ineffective and unwarranted. This study identifies the causes of persistent low level of hCG and provides guidelines for the management of these patients, preventing unnecessary treatment in the future.


The USA hCG Reference Service has consulted on 170 women with low levels of hCG persisting for 3 months or longer. Serum total hCG was measured in the Diagnostic Products Corporation (DPC) Immulite assay and hyperglycosylated hCG in the Nichols Advantage test.


Among these 170 patients, the average persistent hCG result was 102 +/- 152 mIU/ml, with a range of 6.1-900 mIU/ml. Thirteen (7.6%) of the 170 patients had true malignancy, 5 had placental site trophoblastic tumor, 3 had other gestational trophoblastic neoplasms (GTN), and 5 had non-trophoblastic malignancies. The remaining 157 patients had false-positive hCG, quiescent gestational trophoblastic disease (quiescent GTD), or pituitary hCG (hCG of pituitary origin). Of 71 patients with false-positive hCG, 47 patients received chemotherapy and 9 had surgery that had no effect on the level of hCG. Five of these patients with false-positive hCG were being monitored for hydatidiform mole or GTN. The majority of these cases were first investigated following an incidental pregnancy test. Of 69 patients who had quiescent GTD, 41 received chemotherapy and 9 underwent hysterectomy. All these therapies were unnecessary and ineffective. While 21 patients with quiescent GTD followed incidental pregnancy tests, the majority were discovered while monitoring patients after treatment for hydatidiform mole or GTN/choriocarcinoma (n = 48). Seventeen cases of pituitary hCG were found among those women who were peri- or post-menopause. Two patients also received chemotherapy for assumed malignancy which was not present.


Clinicians frequently assume that an elevated hCG implies that a patient is pregnant or has GTD or recurrent GTN, even when apart from the pregnancy test, no clinical evidence was found to support such a diagnosis. In most of these cases of persistent low hCG etiologies, all therapies were found unnecessary and ineffective. Guidelines are proposed for managing these patients. It is essential to demonstrate a malignancy clinically and with readily available biochemical tests before initiating therapy. This applies whether the patient is identified by an incidental pregnancy test or is actively being monitored for gestational trophoblastic disease.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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