Testicular Choriocarcinoma

Updated: Apr 04, 2017
  • Author: Michael B Williams, MD, MS; Chief Editor: Bradley Fields Schwartz, DO, FACS  more...
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Practice Essentials

Testicular choriocarcinoma is one of the histologic types of nonseminomatous germ cell tumors (NSGCTs), which along with testicular seminoma constitute the two major histologic groups of testicular cancers. Pure choriocarcinoma of the testis is the exception to most of the rules established for testicular seminoma and all other forms of NSGCTs.

Like other germ cell tumors (GCTs), choriocarcinoma typically affects younger men. Unlike other such cancers, choriocarcinoma metastasizes hematogenously, with the testicular primary tumor often small or even "burned-out." In most reports, the tumor responds poorly to radiation and chemotherapy and carries a high mortality rate. Surgery is usually limited to radical orchiectomy for tissue diagnosis. [1]

For patient education information, see the Men's Health Center and Cancer Center, as well as Testicular Cancer and Testicular Self-Exam.


Pathophysiology and Etiology

Choriocarcinoma recapitulates placental tissue development. For unknown reasons, it metastasizes early via hematogenous routes to the lung, liver, and brain, among others. [1, 2]

Patients with a history of cryptorchidism are at a greatly increased risk of testis cancer (by a factor of 10-40 times). Abdominal undescended testis is associated with a greater risk than the inguinal form. An abdominal testis cancer is more likely to be seminoma, while a testis surgically brought to the scrotum via orchiopexy is more likely to be an NSGCT. Orchiopexy allows for earlier detection by physical examination but does not alter the risk of GCT. Ten percent of patients with a GCT have a history of cryptorchidism. In a series of 125 patients with a history or clinical evidence of cryptorchidism and testis tumor, 3 (2%) were pure choriocarcinoma, which is similar to the overall incidence of choriocarcinoma among GCTs. [3]

Genetic changes in the form of amplifications and deletions are observed predominantly in the 12p11.2-p12.1 chromosomal region. Gain of 12p sequences is associated with invasive growth of seminomas and nonseminomas. In contrast, spermatocytic seminoma shows a gain of chromosome 9, and most infantile yolk sac tumors and teratomas show no chromosomal changes.

Other risks include the following:



United States

Testicular GCTs are rare, representing only 1%-2% of all malignancies in males and occurring in 1 of 250 men by age 65 years. However, these tumors represent the most common malignancy in men aged 15-35 years. The incidence rates are 3.7 cases and 0.9 cases per 100,000 per year in white males and black males, respectively. GCTs have several subtypes and frequencies, including seminoma (40%), embryonal tumor (25%), teratocarcinoma (25%), teratoma (5%), and choriocarcinoma (pure; 1%).


The incidence of testis cancer increased worldwide from the early 1960s to the mid 1980s. The malignancy is more common in whites than in nonwhites. The highest rates are in Denmark (8.4 cases per 100,000 per y) and Switzerland (6.2-8.8 cases per 100,000 per y), and the frequency varies across Europe. In a histologic review of 1010 orchiectomies from 1999 to 2011 from a single Mexican oncology institution, 0.6% were pure choriocarcinomas and 0.9% were mixed germ cell tumors with a predominant choriocarcinoma component. [4]




Ramon y Cajal et al (1987) reported a case of pure choriocarcinoma in the oldest patient recorded, aged 63 years. [5] The patient died of aspiration shortly after initiation of chemotherapy, so a determination of treatment efficacy in this age group was impossible. The second-oldest patient reported was aged 50 years.

In a literature review of 10,000 cases of germinal testicular cell tumors, Ramon y Cajal et al found 54 (0.5%) cases of pure choriocarcinoma. The tumors occurred most commonly in men aged 20-30 years. [5] In a 2008 review of 50 men older than 60 years with GCT, only one was found to have a component of choriocarcinoma. [6]