- By Disease
- Complementary & Alternative Medicine
- Clinical Trials
- Screening & Detection
- Supportive Care
Gestational Trophoblastic Disease Treatment (PDQ®)
- General Information About Gestational Trophoblastic Disease
- Stages of Gestational Trophoblastic Tumors and Neoplasia
- Recurrent and Resistant Gestational Trophoblastic Neoplasia
- Treatment Option Overview
- Treatment Options for Gestational Trophoblastic Disease
- To Learn More About Gestational Trophoblastic Disease
- Changes to This Summary (05/10/2013)
- Get More Information From NCI
- About PDQ
General Information About Gestational Trophoblastic Disease
Gestational trophoblastic disease (GTD) is a group of rare diseases in which abnormal trophoblast cells grow inside the uterus after conception.
Gestational trophoblastic disease (GTD) develops inside the uterus from tissue that forms after conception (the joining of sperm and egg). This tissue is made of trophoblast cells and normally surrounds the fertilized egg in the uterus. Trophoblast cells help connect the fertilized egg to the wall of the uterus and form part of the placenta (the organ that passes nutrients from the mother to the fetus).
Sometimes there is a problem with the fertilized egg and trophoblast cells. Instead of a healthy fetus developing, a tumor forms. Until there are signs or symptoms of the tumor, the pregnancy will seem like a normal pregnancy.
Gestational trophoblastic disease (GTD) is a general term that includes different types of disease:
- Hydatidiform Moles (HM) Complete HM.Partial HM.
- Gestational Trophoblastic Neoplasia (GTN) Invasive moles.Choriocarcinomas.Placental-site trophoblastic tumors (PSTT; very rare).Epithelioid trophoblastic tumors (ETT; even more rare).
Hydatidiform mole (HM) is the most common type of GTD.
HMs are slow-growing tumors that look like sacs of fluid. An HM is also called a molar pregnancy. The cause of hydatidiform moles is not known.
HMs may be complete or partial:
- A complete HM forms when sperm fertilizes an egg that does not contain the mother’s DNA. The egg has DNA from the father and the cells that were meant to become the placenta are abnormal.
- A partial HM forms when sperm fertilizes a normal egg and there are two sets of DNA from the father in the fertilized egg. Only part of the fetus forms and the cells that were meant to become the placenta are abnormal.
Most hydatidiform moles are benign, but they sometimes become cancer. Having one or more of the following risk factors increases the risk that a hydatidiform mole will become cancer:
- A pregnancy before 20 or after 35 years of age.
- A very high level of beta human chorionic gonadotropin (β-hCG), a hormone made by the body during pregnancy.
- A large tumor in the uterus.
- An ovarian cyst larger than 6 centimeters.
- High blood pressure during pregnancy.
- An overactive thyroid gland (extra thyroid hormone is made).
- Severe nausea and vomiting during pregnancy.
- Trophoblastic cells in the blood, which may block small blood vessels.
- Serious blood clotting problems caused by the HM.
Gestational trophoblastic neoplasia (GTN) is a type of gestational trophoblastic disease (GTD) that is almost always malignant.
Gestational trophoblastic neoplasia (GTN) includes the following:
Invasive moles are made up of trophoblast cells that grow into the muscle layer of the uterus. Invasive moles are more likely to grow and spread than a hydatidiform mole. Rarely, a complete or partial HM may become an invasive mole. Sometimes an invasive mole will disappear without treatment.
A choriocarcinoma is a malignant tumor that forms from trophoblast cells and spreads to the muscle layer of the uterus and nearby blood vessels. It may also spread to other parts of the body, such as the brain, lungs, liver, kidney, spleen, intestines, pelvis, or vagina. A choriocarcinoma is more likely to form in women who have had any of the following:
- Molar pregnancy, especially with a complete hydatidiform mole.
- Normal pregnancy.
- Tubal pregnancy (the fertilized egg implants in the fallopian tube rather than the uterus).
Placental-site trophoblastic tumors
A placental-site trophoblastic tumor (PSTT) is a rare type of gestational trophoblastic neoplasia that forms where the placenta attaches to the uterus. The tumor forms from trophoblast cells and spreads into the muscle of the uterus and into blood vessels. It may also spread to the lungs, pelvis, or lymph nodes. A PSTT grows very slowly and symptoms may appear months or years after a normal pregnancy.
Epithelioid trophoblastic tumors
An epithelioid trophoblastic tumor (ETT) is a very rare type of gestational trophoblastic neoplasia that may be benign or malignant. When the tumor is malignant, it may spread to the lungs.
Age and a previous molar pregnancy affect the risk of GTD.
Anything that increases your risk of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn't mean that you will not get cancer. Talk to your doctor if you think you may be at risk. Risk factors for GTD include the following:
- Being pregnant when you are younger than 20 or older than 35 years of age.
- Having a personal history of hydatidiform mole.
Possible signs of GTD include abnormal vaginal bleeding and a uterus that is larger than normal.
These and other symptoms may be caused by gestational trophoblastic disease. Other conditions may cause the same symptoms. Check with your doctor if you have any of the following problems:
- Vaginal bleeding not related to menstruation.
- A uterus that is larger than expected during pregnancy.
- Pain or pressure in the pelvis.
- Severe nausea and vomiting during pregnancy.
- High blood pressure with headache and swelling of feet and hands early in the pregnancy.
- Vaginal bleeding that continues for longer than normal after delivery.
- Fatigue, shortness of breath, dizziness, and a fast or irregular heartbeat caused by anemia.
GTD sometimes causes an overactive thyroid. Symptoms of an overactive thyroid include the following:
- Fast or irregular heartbeat.
- Frequent bowel movements.
- Trouble sleeping.
- Feeling anxious or irritable.
- Weight loss.
Tests that examine the uterus are used to detect (find) and diagnose gestational trophoblastic disease.
The following tests and procedures may be used:
- Physical exam and history: An exam of the body to check general signs of health, including checking for signs of disease, such as lumps or anything else that seems unusual. A history of the patient’s health habits and past illnesses and treatments will also be taken.
- Pelvic exam: An exam of the vagina, cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, and rectum. The doctor or nurse inserts one or two lubricated, gloved fingers of one hand into the vagina and the other hand is placed over the lower abdomen to feel the size, shape, and position of the uterus and ovaries. A speculum is also inserted into the vagina and the doctor or nurse looks at the vagina and cervix for signs of disease. A Pap test or Pap smear of the cervix is usually done. The doctor or nurse also inserts a lubricated, gloved finger into the rectum to feel for lumps or abnormal areas.
- Ultrasound exam of the pelvis: A procedure in which high-energy sound waves (ultrasound) are bounced off internal tissues or organs in the pelvis and make echoes. The echoes form a picture of body tissues called a sonogram. Sometimes a transvaginal ultrasound (TVUS) will be done. For TVUS, an ultrasound transducer (probe) is inserted into the vagina to make the sonogram.
- Lumbar puncture: A procedure used to collect cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) from the spinal column. This is done by placing a needle into the spinal column. The CSF is checked for signs of cancer. This procedure is also called an LP or spinal tap.
- Blood chemistry studies: A procedure in which a blood sample is checked to measure the amounts of certain substances released into the blood by organs and tissues in the body. An unusual (higher or lower than normal) amount of a substance can be a sign of disease in the organ or tissue that makes it. Blood is also tested to check the liver, kidney, and bone marrow.
- Serum tumor marker test: A procedure in which a sample of blood is checked to measure the amounts of certain substances made by organs, tissues, or tumor cells in the body. Certain substances are linked to specific types of cancer when found in increased levels in the body. These are called tumor markers. For GTD, the blood is checked for the level of beta human chorionic gonadotropin (β-hCG), a hormone that is made by the body during pregnancy. β-hCG in the blood of a woman who is not pregnant may be a sign of GTD.
- Urinalysis: A test to check the color of urine and its contents, such as sugar, protein, blood, bacteria, and the level of β-hCG.
Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options.
- The type of GTD.
- Whether the tumor has spread to the uterus, lymph nodes, or distant parts of the body.
- The number of tumors and where they are in the body.
- The size of the largest tumor.
- The level of β-hCG in the blood.
- How soon the tumor was diagnosed after the pregnancy began.
- Whether GTD occurred after a molar pregnancy, miscarriage, or normal pregnancy.
- Previous treatment for gestational trophoblastic neoplasia.
Treatment options also depend on whether the woman wishes to become pregnant in the future.
Stages of Gestational Trophoblastic Tumors and Neoplasia
After gestational trophoblastic neoplasia has been diagnosed, tests are done to find out if cancer has spread from where it started to other parts of the body.
The process used to find out the extent or spread of cancer is called staging, The information gathered from the staging process helps determine the stage of disease. For GTN, stage is one of the factors used to plan treatment.
The following tests and procedures may be done to help find out the stage of the disease:
- Chest x-ray: An x-ray of the organs and bones inside the chest. An x-ray is a type of energy beam that can go through the body onto film, making pictures of areas inside the body.
- CT scan (CAT scan): A procedure that makes a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body, taken from different angles. The pictures are made by a computer linked to an x-ray machine. A dye may be injected into a vein or swallowed to help the organs or tissues show up more clearly. This procedure is also called computed tomography, computerized tomography, or computerized axial tomography.
- MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) with gadolinium: A procedure that uses a magnet, radio waves, and a computer to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body, such as brain and spinal cord. A substance called gadolinium is injected into a vein. The gadolinium collects around the cancer cells so they show up brighter in the picture. This procedure is also called nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (NMRI).
There are three ways that cancer spreads in the body.
The three ways that cancer spreads in the body are:
- Through tissue. Cancer invades the surrounding normal tissue.
- Through the lymph system. Cancer invades the lymph system and travels through the lymph vessels to other places in the body.
- Through the blood. Cancer invades the veins and capillaries and travels through the blood to other places in the body.
When cancer cells break away from the primary (original) tumor and travel through the lymph or blood to other places in the body, another (secondary) tumor may form. This process is called metastasis. The secondary (metastatic) tumor is the same type of cancer as the primary tumor. For example, if gestational trophoblastic neoplasia spreads to the lung, the cancer cells in the lung are actually trophoblast cells. The disease is metastatic gestational trophoblastic neoplasia, not lung cancer.
There is no staging system for hydatidiform moles.
The following stages are used for GTN:
The treatment of gestational trophoblastic neoplasia is based on the type of disease, stage, or risk group.
Invasive moles and choriocarcinomas are treated based on risk groups. The stage of the invasive mole or choriocarcinoma is one factor used to determine risk group. Other factors include the following:
- The age of the patient when the diagnosis is made.
- Whether the GTN occurred after a molar pregnancy, miscarriage, or normal pregnancy.
- How soon the tumor was diagnosed after the pregnancy began.
- The level of beta human chorionic gonadotropin (β-hCG) in the blood.
- The size of the largest tumor.
- Where the tumor has spread to and the number of tumors in the body.
- How many chemotherapy drugs the tumor has been treated with (for recurrent or resistant tumors).
There are two risk groups for invasive moles and choriocarcinomas: low risk and high risk. Patients with low-risk disease usually receive less aggressive treatment than patients with high-risk disease.
Placental-site trophoblastic tumor (PSTT) and epithelioid trophoblastic tumor (ETT) treatments depend on the stage of disease.
Recurrent and Resistant Gestational Trophoblastic Neoplasia
Gestational trophoblastic neoplasia that does not respond to treatment is called resistant GTN.
Treatment Option Overview
There are different types of treatment for patients with gestational trophoblastic disease.
Different types of treatment are available for patients with gestational trophoblastic disease. Some treatments are standard (the currently used treatment), and some are being tested in clinical trials. Before starting treatment, patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. A treatment clinical trial is a research study meant to help improve current treatments or obtain information on new treatments for patients with cancer. When clinical trials show that a new treatment is better than the standard treatment, the new treatment may become the standard treatment.
Clinical trials are taking place in many parts of the country. Information about ongoing clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site. Choosing the most appropriate cancer treatment is a decision that ideally involves the patient, family, and health care team.
Three types of standard treatment are used:
The doctor may remove the cancer using one of the following operations:
- Dilatation and curettage (D&C) with suction evacuation: A surgical procedure to remove abnormal tissue and parts of the inner lining of the uterus. The cervix is dilated and the material inside the uterus is removed with a small vacuum-like device. The walls of the uterus are then gently scraped with a curette (spoon-shaped instrument) to remove any material that may remain in the uterus. This procedure may be used for molar pregnancies.
- Hysterectomy: Surgery to remove the uterus, and sometimes the cervix. If the uterus and cervix are taken out through the vagina, the operation is called a vaginal hysterectomy. If the uterus and cervix are taken out through a large incision (cut) in the abdomen, the operation is called a total abdominal hysterectomy. If the uterus and cervix are taken out through a small incision (cut) in the abdomen using a laparoscope, the operation is called a total laparoscopic hysterectomy.
Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body (systemic chemotherapy). When chemotherapy is placed directly into the cerebrospinal fluid, an organ, or a body cavity such as the abdomen, the drugs mainly affect cancer cells in those areas (regional chemotherapy). The way the chemotherapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated, or whether the tumor is low-risk or high-risk.
Combination chemotherapy is treatment using more than one anticancer drug.
Even if the doctor removes all the cancer that can be seen at the time of the surgery, some patients may be given chemotherapy after surgery to kill any tumor cells that are left. Treatment given after the surgery, to lower the risk that the cancer will come back, is called adjuvant therapy.
See Drugs Approved for Gestational Trophoblastic Tumors for more information.
Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. There are two types of radiation therapy. External radiation therapy uses a machine outside the body to send radiation toward the cancer. Internal radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters that are placed directly into or near the cancer. The way the radiation therapy is given depends on the type of cancer being treated.
New types of treatment are being tested in clinical trials.
Information about ongoing clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.
Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial.
For some patients, taking part in a clinical trial may be the best treatment choice. Clinical trials are part of the cancer research process. Clinical trials are done to find out if new cancer treatments are safe and effective or better than the standard treatment.
Many of today's standard treatments for cancer are based on earlier clinical trials. Patients who take part in a clinical trial may receive the standard treatment or be among the first to receive a new treatment.
Patients who take part in clinical trials also help improve the way cancer will be treated in the future. Even when clinical trials do not lead to effective new treatments, they often answer important questions and help move research forward.
Patients can enter clinical trials before, during, or after starting their cancer treatment.
Some clinical trials only include patients who have not yet received treatment. Other trials test treatments for patients whose cancer has not gotten better. There are also clinical trials that test new ways to stop cancer from recurring (coming back) or reduce the side effects of cancer treatment.
Clinical trials are taking place in many parts of the country. See the Treatment Options section that follows for links to current treatment clinical trials. These have been retrieved from NCI's listing of clinical trials.
Follow-up tests may be needed.
Some of the tests that were done to diagnose the cancer or to find out the stage of the cancer may be repeated. Some tests will be repeated in order to see how well the treatment is working. Decisions about whether to continue, change, or stop treatment may be based on the results of these tests. This is sometimes called re-staging.
Some of the tests will continue to be done from time to time after treatment has ended. The results of these tests can show if your condition has changed or if the cancer has recurred (come back). These tests are sometimes called follow-up tests or check-ups.
Blood levels of beta human chorionic gonadotropin (β-hCG) will be checked for up to 6 months after treatment has ended. This is because a β-hCG level that is higher than normal may mean that the tumor has not responded to treatment or it has become cancer.
Treatment Options for Gestational Trophoblastic Disease
A link to a list of current clinical trials is included for each treatment section. For some types of gestational trophoblastic disease, there may not be any trials listed. Check with your doctor for clinical trials that are not listed here but may be right for you.
Treatment of a hydatidiform mole may include the following:
After surgery, beta human chorionic gonadotropin (β-hCG) blood tests are done every week until the β-hCG level returns to normal. Patients also have follow-up doctor visits monthly for up to 6 months. If the level of β-hCG does not return to normal or increases, it may mean the hydatidiform mole was not completely removed and it has become cancer. Pregnancy causes β-hCG levels to increase, so your doctor will ask you not to become pregnant until follow-up is finished.
For disease that remains after surgery, treatment is usually chemotherapy.
Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with hydatidiform mole. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.
Gestational Trophoblastic Neoplasia
Low-risk Gestational Trophoblastic Neoplasia
- Chemotherapy with one or more anticancer drugs. Treatment is given until the beta human chorionic gonadotropin (β-hCG) level is normal for at least 3 weeks after treatment ends.
Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with low risk metastatic gestational trophoblastic tumor. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.
High-risk Metastatic Gestational Trophoblastic Neoplasia
- Combination chemotherapy.
- Intrathecal chemotherapy and radiation therapy to the brain (for cancer that has spread to the lung, to keep it from spreading to the brain).
- High-dose chemotherapy or intrathecal chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy to the brain (for cancer that has spread to the brain).
Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with high risk metastatic gestational trophoblastic tumor. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.
Placental-Site Gestational Trophoblastic Tumors and Epithelioid Trophoblastic Tumors
Treatment of stage II placental-site gestational trophoblastic tumors and epithelioid trophoblastic tumors may include the following:
- Surgery to remove the tumor, which may be followed by combination chemotherapy.
Treatment of stage III and IV placental-site gestational trophoblastic tumors and epithelioid trophoblastic tumors may include following:
- Combination chemotherapy.
- Surgery to remove cancer that has spread to other places, such as the lung or abdomen.
Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with placental-site gestational trophoblastic tumor and epithelioid trophoblastic tumor. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.
Recurrent or Resistant Gestational Trophoblastic Neoplasia
- Chemotherapy with one or more anticancer drugs for tumors previously treated with surgery.
- Combination chemotherapy for tumors previously treated with chemotherapy.
- Surgery for tumors that do not respond to chemotherapy.
Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with recurrent gestational trophoblastic tumor. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.
To Learn More About Gestational Trophoblastic Disease
For more information from the National Cancer Institute about gestational trophoblastic tumors and neoplasia, see the following:
- Gestational Trophoblastic Tumor Home Page
- Drugs Approved for Gestational Trophoblastic Tumors
- Metastatic Cancer
For general cancer information and other resources from the National Cancer Institute, see the following:
- What You Need to Know About™ Cancer
- Understanding Cancer Series: Cancer
- Cancer Staging
- Chemotherapy and You: Support for People With Cancer
- Radiation Therapy and You: Support for People With Cancer
- Coping with Cancer: Supportive and Palliative Care
- Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Cancer
- Cancer Library
- Information For Survivors/Caregivers/Advocates
Changes to This Summary (05/10/2013)
The PDQ cancer information summaries are reviewed regularly and updated as new information becomes available. This section describes the latest changes made to this summary as of the date above.
This summary was completely reformatted. Images and some content were added.
Get More Information From NCI
For more information, U.S. residents may call the National Cancer Institute's (NCI's) Cancer Information Service toll-free at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237) Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., Eastern Time. A trained Cancer Information Specialist is available to answer your questions.
The NCI's LiveHelp® online chat service provides Internet users with the ability to chat online with an Information Specialist. The service is available from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday. Information Specialists can help Internet users find information on NCI Web sites and answer questions about cancer.
Write to us
For more information from the NCI, please write to this address:
- NCI Public Inquiries Office
- 9609 Medical Center Dr.
- Room 2E532 MSC 9760
- Bethesda, MD 20892-9760
Search the NCI Web site
The NCI Web site provides online access to information on cancer, clinical trials, and other Web sites and organizations that offer support and resources for cancer patients and their families. For a quick search, use the search box in the upper right corner of each Web page. The results for a wide range of search terms will include a list of "Best Bets," editorially chosen Web pages that are most closely related to the search term entered.
There are also many other places to get materials and information about cancer treatment and services. Hospitals in your area may have information about local and regional agencies that have information on finances, getting to and from treatment, receiving care at home, and dealing with problems related to cancer treatment.
The NCI has booklets and other materials for patients, health professionals, and the public. These publications discuss types of cancer, methods of cancer treatment, coping with cancer, and clinical trials. Some publications provide information on tests for cancer, cancer causes and prevention, cancer statistics, and NCI research activities. NCI materials on these and other topics may be ordered online or printed directly from the NCI Publications Locator. These materials can also be ordered by telephone from the Cancer Information Service toll-free at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237).
PDQ is a comprehensive cancer database available on NCI's Web site.
PDQ is the National Cancer Institute's (NCI's) comprehensive cancer information database. Most of the information contained in PDQ is available online at NCI's Web site. PDQ is provided as a service of the NCI. The NCI is part of the National Institutes of Health, the federal government's focal point for biomedical research.
PDQ contains cancer information summaries.
The PDQ database contains summaries of the latest published information on cancer prevention, detection, genetics, treatment, supportive care, and complementary and alternative medicine. Most summaries are available in two versions. The health professional versions provide detailed information written in technical language. The patient versions are written in easy-to-understand, nontechnical language. Both versions provide current and accurate cancer information.
Images in the PDQ summaries are used with permission of the author(s), artist, and/or publisher for use within the PDQ summaries only. Permission to use images outside the context of PDQ information must be obtained from the owner(s) and cannot be granted by the National Cancer Institute. Information about using the illustrations in the PDQ summaries, along with many other cancer-related images, are available in Visuals Online, a collection of over 2,000 scientific images.
The PDQ cancer information summaries are developed by cancer experts and reviewed regularly.
Editorial Boards made up of experts in oncology and related specialties are responsible for writing and maintaining the cancer information summaries. The summaries are reviewed regularly and changes are made as new information becomes available. The date on each summary ("Date Last Modified") indicates the time of the most recent change.
PDQ also contains information on clinical trials.
A clinical trial is a study to answer a scientific question, such as whether one treatment is better than another. Trials are based on past studies and what has been learned in the laboratory. Each trial answers certain scientific questions in order to find new and better ways to help cancer patients. During treatment clinical trials, information is collected about the effects of a new treatment and how well it works. If a clinical trial shows that a new treatment is better than one currently being used, the new treatment may become "standard." Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.
Listings of clinical trials are included in PDQ and are available online at NCI's Web site. Descriptions of the trials are available in health professional and patient versions. Many cancer doctors who take part in clinical trials are also listed in PDQ. For more information, call the Cancer Information Service 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237).
This information was last updated on 2013-05-10