by Gary Pepper, M.D.
Last week Helen, a friend of the family, called to brag she had lost 12 pounds in 4 weeks and also to ask if she had given herself cancer in the process. What was the connection between her supposed miracle metabolism and cancer? Helen was taking HCG injections and just read this hormone was somehow related to cancer. I reassured her that I didn’t think she was giving herself cancer by taking HCG but I did let her know that very soon she was likely to resume her normal metabolism and regain the weight she lost. Unfortunately her wallet was never going to recover what it lost in this process. Many services prescribing HCG treatment for weight loss are charging $400 or more for a course of treatment.
Now what about the cancer-HCG connection?
HCG is a hormone normally produced by the fertilized egg in the earliest stages of fetal development and then later by the placenta itself. Since rising HCG level is one of the earliest hormone changes during pregnancy, measuring this hormone is the basis for the everyday pregnancy test. HCG also causes the ovary to make progesterone which is essential for preparing the uterus to become a nesting ground for the developing embryo. HCG may also suppress immune function so that the fetus is not rejected by the mother’s immune system.
The placenta forms at the onset of pregnancy to support the developing embryo and later the fetus. If a sperm fertilizes an empty egg at the onset of pregnancy a Hyditidiform mole can arise in conjunction with or instead of the normal placenta. This is also referred to as a molar pregnancy. HCG levels can rise to extreme levels in the presence of the Hyditidiform mole particularly if it goes on to become an invasive cancer known as a choriocarcinoma. Body chemistry gets a little weird at this stage. HCG is slightly similar in structure to TSH, the pituitary hormone that stimulates the thyroid. The result is that when HCG levels are extremely high as with a molar pregnancy, the thyroid can be stimulated to make excess thyroid hormone resulting in hyperthyroidism in the mother. Typical symptoms of hyperthyroidism can occur including feeling hot, shaky, sweatiness, palpitations, vomiting (which can be severe) and diarrhea. Curing the cancer will cure the hyperthyroidism as well.
Other cancers of the reproductive system can make HCG as well. Certain testicular cancers can make HCG. Since HCG is the hormone responsible for a positive pregnancy test, testicular cancer can sometimes be diagnosed in men by a positive pregnancy test. For tumors making HCG, measuring levels of this hormone during cancer treatment can aid doctors in determining whether therapy is working or not.
Certain cancers are termed “hormone responsive”. That means the cancer will grow more aggressively in the presence of a particular hormone. Tumors that grow faster in the presence of estrogen include receptor positive breast cancer and endometrial cancer. A tumor that grows faster in the presence of testosterone is prostate cancer. Since HCG is likely to increase these hormones, it is conceivable that should a hormone responsive tumor already exist in the body it could grow faster during HCG treatment.
So Helen, I don’t think HCG is going to give you cancer, but it may cause you to grow a beard. Why is that? I’ll be explaining my theory in the next article, “HCG is a Hairy Hormone”. Visit metabolism.com for more on this, in the very near future.