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The role of human chorionic gonadotropin β subunit elevation in small-cell lung cancer patients

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  • Clinical Oncology
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Human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG)-like immunoreactivity has been found in many nontrophoblastic tumours, but the biological behaviour of HCG-producing cells has not been clarified yet. The aim of the study was to estimate the frequency of serum HCG β subunit (sßHCG) elevation in patients with small-cell lung cancer (SCLC) and to assess its possible prognostic role in this type of tumour. An attempt was also made to reclassify the histology in selected cases to see whether the elevated (sßHCG) level is connected with any special subtype of small-cell lung cancer. A total of 156 SCLC patients entered the study: 93 men, 63 women, median age 58 years. sßHCG activity was measured by immunoenzyme assay (Abbott EIA ßHCG 15–15) before treatment. sßHCG elevation (above 5 mIU/ml) was found in 21 of 156 patients (14%). Response to treatment after chemotherapy (complete and partial response) was obtained in only 48% of those patients in whom elevated sßHCG was found, in comparison to the 73% response rate observed in the remaining patients. Only 5% of patients with elevated sßHCG survived 2 years, in comparison to 21% surviving for 2 years among the remaining patients. The prognostic significance of elevated sßHCG and extent of disease were independent of each other (Cox's proportional-hazard model). Thus sßHCG elevation in SCLC seems to be a marker of more resistant tumours and of poor prognosis. We have not found any connection between the subtype of small-cell lung cancer and elevated sßHCG. Elevated sßHCG was found in 2 out of 11 patients with oat-cell carcinoma, in 3 out of 10 patients with an intermediate cell type and in 5 out of 13 patients with small-cell lung cancer in which the assessment of the subtype was not possible.

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human chorionic gonadotropin


small-cell lung cancer


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Szturmowicz, M., Wiatr, E., Sakowicz, A. et al. The role of human chorionic gonadotropin β subunit elevation in small-cell lung cancer patients. J Cancer Res Clin Oncol 121, 309–312 (1995).

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