Gestational Trophoblastic Disease: Diagnosis

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 06/2016

ON THIS PAGE: You will find a list of common tests, procedures, and scans that doctors use to find the cause of a medical problem. Use the menu to see other pages.

Doctors use many tests to find, or diagnose, cancer. They also do tests to learn if cancer has spread to another part of the body from where it started. If this happens, it is called metastasis. For example, imaging tests can show if the cancer has spread. Imaging tests show pictures of the inside of the body. Doctors may also do tests to learn which treatments could work best.

For most types of cancer, a biopsy is the only sure way for the doctor to know whether an area of the body has cancer. In a biopsy, the doctor takes a small sample of tissue for testing in a laboratory. If a biopsy is not possible, the doctor may suggest other tests that will help make a diagnosis.

This list describes options for diagnosing GTD, and not all tests listed will be used for every person. Your doctor may consider these factors when choosing a diagnostic test:

  • The type of disease suspected

  • Your signs and symptoms

  • Your age and medical condition

  • The results of earlier medical tests

In addition to a physical examination, the following tests may be used to diagnose GTD:

  • Pelvic examination. The doctor may feel the uterus, vagina, ovaries, fallopian tubes, bladder, and rectum to check for lumps or any unusual changes. This is similar to the physical exam done when women have an annual gynecologic check-up.

  • Beta human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) test. Tumor markers are substances found at higher than normal levels in the blood, urine, or body tissues of people with a tumor. Women who are pregnant normally produce high levels of the hormone beta hCG in their blood and urine. High levels of beta hCG in a woman who is not pregnant could mean that GTD is present. hCG tests are also helpful tests during and after treatment for GTD, to monitor a woman’s recovery.

  • Other lab tests. Additional blood and urine tests may be done, including tests to check the woman’s thyroid, liver, kidney, and bone marrow function.

  • Ultrasound. Also called a sonogram, an ultrasound uses sound waves to create a picture of the internal organs. In a transvaginal ultrasound, an ultrasound wand is inserted into the vagina and aimed at the uterus, to obtain the pictures.

  • X-ray. An x-ray is a way to create a picture of the structures inside of the body using a small amount of radiation. A chest x-ray may be done to see if the tumor spread outside of the uterus.

  • Computed tomography (CT or CAT) scan. A CT scan creates a 3-dimensional picture of the inside of the body using x-rays taken from different angles. A computer then combines these images into a detailed, cross-sectional view that shows any abnormalities or tumors. A CT scan can also be used to measure the tumor’s size. Sometimes, a special dye called a contrast medium is given before the scan to provide better detail on the image. This dye is injected into a patient’s vein or given as a drink to swallow.

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). An MRI uses magnetic fields, not x-rays, to produce detailed images of the body. MRI can also be used to measure the tumor’s size. A special dye called a contrast medium is given before the scan to create a clearer picture. This dye can be injected into a patient’s vein or given as a pill to swallow. In GTD, MRIs are most often used to see a patient’s brain.

After diagnostic tests are done, your doctor will review all of the results with you. If the diagnosis is GTD, these results also help the doctor describe the disease in more detail; this is called staging.

The next section in this guide is Stages. It explains the system doctors use to describe the extent of the disease. Or, use the menu to choose another section to continue reading this guide.