Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (HCG): Side Effects & Definition

Instructor: Patricia Brandler
HCG is a reproductive hormone. This lesson will discuss the basics of HCG, the importance of HCG and possible side effects of synthetic HCG used for treatment. Follow along. It will be gland!

Breakdown of HCG

Where do babies come from? We all know there are lots of pieces to that puzzle! But, there is one very important piece that controls several steps in the process. That piece is called human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG).

Like all big names, it becomes much easier to understand if we break it into smaller chunks. I'm pretty sure we are all comfortable with what is human. The chorion comes next. The chorion is the outermost membrane of an embryo. Most people are more familiar with the inner layer called the amnion because it contains the amniotic fluid in which the embryo floats. The chorion develops finger like projections that carry nutrients from the mother to the developing baby and becomes part of the placenta. Finally, gonadotropins are hormones that act upon the gonads (ovaries and testes).

HCG Hormone

Hormones are substances, usually glycoproteins, that regulate activities in cells and organs. There are glands whose primary function is to produce and secrete hormones. The pituitary gland, which is located just below the brain and behind the bridge of the nose, produces many hormones, including HCG which controls the activities of the ovaries and testes. HCG stimulates ovulation in females and testosterone production in males.

HCG is also produced in early pregnancy by the placenta. The HCG of pregnancy is found in the blood and urine of pregnant women and is the basis for pregnancy tests. The common at-home pregnancy tests use filter paper with anti-HCG antibodies embedded in the shape of a plus sign. When the urine of a pregnant woman is absorbed onto the filter paper, the antigen (HCG) reacts with the antibodies (anti-HCG) producing a color. There is a little more science to it, but I think you get the picture. And, no rabbits were harmed in the process!

HCG and Cancer

High HCG levels in non-pregnant women or men could indicate cancer. Germ cell tumors (those arising from eggs in the ovaries and sperm in the testes) can be benign or malignant. Both types can cause increased HCG production. Other non-gonadal related tumors can also secrete HCG. Therefore, HCG can be used as a tumor marker to monitor progression and response to treatment.

If an HCG producing tumor is successfully treated with radiation, chemotherapy or surgical removal, the level of HCG should go down as a result. Rising HCG levels may indicate the treatments are not effective or the cancer has returned.

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