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Home > Living Well > Health Library > Gestational Trophoblastic Disease Treatment (PDQ®): Treatment - Patient Information [NCI]
This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http://cancer.gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.
Gestational trophoblastic disease (GTD) is a group of rare diseases in which abnormal trophoblast cells grow inside the uterus after conception.
In gestational trophoblastic disease (GTD), a tumor 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.
Most GTD is benign (not cancer) and does not spread, but some types become malignant (cancer) and spread to nearby tissues or distant parts of the body.
Gestational trophoblastic disease (GTD) is a general term that includes different types of disease:
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:
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:
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:
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 signs or 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:
Signs of GTD include abnormal vaginal bleeding and a uterus that is larger than normal.
These and other signs and symptoms may be caused by gestational trophoblastic disease or by other conditions. Check with your doctor if you have any of the following:
GTD sometimes causes an overactive thyroid. Signs and symptoms of an overactive thyroid include the following:
Tests that examine the uterus are used to detect (find) and diagnose gestational trophoblastic disease.
The following tests and procedures may be used:
Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options.
Gestational trophoblastic disease usually can be cured. Treatment and prognosis depend on the following:
Treatment options also depend on whether the woman wishes to become pregnant in the future.
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 gestational trophoblastic neoplasia (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:
There are three ways that cancer spreads in the body.
Cancer can spread through tissue, the lymph system, and the blood:
Cancer may spread from where it began to other parts of the body.
When cancer spreads to another part of the body, it is called metastasis. Cancer cells break away from where they began (the primary tumor) and travel through the lymph system or blood.
The metastatic tumor is the same type of cancer as the primary tumor. For example, if choriocarcinoma spreads to the lung, the cancer cells in the lung are actually choriocarcinoma cells. The disease is metastatic choriocarcinoma, not lung cancer.
There is no staging system for hydatidiform moles.
Hydatidiform moles (HM) are found in the uterus only and do not spread to other parts of the body.
The following stages are used for gestational trophoblastic neoplasia:
In stage I, the tumor is in the uterus only.
In stage II, the tumor has spread beyond the uterus to the ovary, fallopian tube, vagina, and/or the connective tissues around the uterus.
In stage III, the tumor has spread to the lung, with or without spread to the ovary, fallopian tube, vagina, and/or the connective tissues around the uterus.
In stage IV, the tumor has spread to distant parts of the body other than the lungs.
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:
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 gestational trophoblastic neoplasia (GTN) is cancer that has recurred (come back) after it has been treated. The cancer may come back in the uterus or in other parts of the body.
Gestational trophoblastic neoplasia that does not respond to treatment is called resistant GTN.
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 website. 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:
After 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 cancer cells that are left. Treatment given after the surgery, to lower the risk that the cancer will come back, is called adjuvant therapy.
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.
See Drugs Approved for Gestational Trophoblastic Disease 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:
The way the radiation therapy is given depends on the type of gestational trophoblastic disease being treated. External radiation therapy is used to treat gestational trophoblastic disease.
New types of treatment are being tested in clinical trials.
Information about ongoing clinical trials is available from the NCI website.
Treatment for gestational trophoblastic disease may cause side effects.
For information about side effects caused by treatment for cancer, see our Side Effects page.
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. Information about clinical trials supported by NCI can be found on NCI's clinical trials search webpage. Clinical trials supported by other organizations can be found on the ClinicalTrials.gov website.
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.
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 (beta-hCG) will be checked for up to 6 months after treatment has ended. This is because a beta-hCG level that is higher than normal may mean that the tumor has not responded to treatment or it has become cancer.
For information about the treatments listed below, see the Treatment Option Overview section.
Treatment of a hydatidiform mole may include the following:
After surgery, beta human chorionic gonadotropin (beta-hCG) blood tests are done every week until the beta-hCG level returns to normal. Patients also have follow-up doctor visits monthly for up to 6 months. If the level of beta-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 beta-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.
Use our clinical trial search to find NCI-supported cancer clinical trials that are accepting patients. You can search for trials based on the type of cancer, the age of the patient, and where the trials are being done. General information about clinical trials is also available.
Gestational Trophoblastic Neoplasia
Low-risk Gestational Trophoblastic Neoplasia
Treatment of low-risk gestational trophoblastic neoplasia (GTN) (invasive mole or choriocarcinoma) may include the following:
If the level of beta-hCG in the blood does not return to normal or the tumor spreads to distant parts of the body, chemotherapy regimens used for high-risk metastatic GTN are given.
High-risk Metastatic Gestational Trophoblastic Neoplasia
Treatment of high-risk metastatic gestational trophoblastic neoplasia (invasive mole or choriocarcinoma) may include the following:
Placental-Site Gestational Trophoblastic Tumors and Epithelioid Trophoblastic Tumors
Treatment of stage I placental-site gestational trophoblastic tumors and epithelioid trophoblastic tumors may include the following:
Treatment of stage II placental-site gestational trophoblastic tumors and epithelioid trophoblastic tumors may include the following:
Treatment of stage III and IV placental-site gestational trophoblastic tumors and epithelioid trophoblastic tumors may include following:
Recurrent or Resistant Gestational Trophoblastic Neoplasia
Treatment of recurrent or resistant gestational trophoblastic tumor may include the following:
For more information from the National Cancer Institute about gestational trophoblastic tumors and neoplasia, see the following:
For general cancer information and other resources from the National Cancer Institute, see the following:
Physician Data Query (PDQ) is the National Cancer Institute's (NCI's) comprehensive cancer information database. 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 come in two versions. The health professional versions have detailed information written in technical language. The patient versions are written in easy-to-understand, nontechnical language. Both versions have cancer information that is accurate and up to date and most versions are also available in Spanish.
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PDQ® Adult Treatment Editorial Board. PDQ Gestational Trophoblastic Disease Treatment. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Updated <MM/DD/YYYY>. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/gestational-trophoblastic/patient/gtd-treatment-pdq. Accessed <MM/DD/YYYY>. [PMID: 26389509]
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Last Revised: 2022-02-25
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