What are germ cell tumors?
Germ cells develop in the embryo and become reproductive cells in males and females. Germ cell tumors typically form inside the reproductive cells. They can be cancerous or non-cancerous. Germ cell tumors account for two to four percent of cancers in children and young adults under the age of 20.
What are the different types of germ cell tumors?
There are two types of malignant (cancerous) germ cell tumors:
- Nonseminomas are large tumors that tend to grow quickly and spread aggressively.
- Seminomas make up about 50 percent of germ cell tumors. They are slow growing and less likely to spread to other parts of the body.
As a fetus develops, germ cells develop and descend into the pelvis or scrotal sac, where they form ovarian or testicular cells. Most malignant germ cell tumors occur as testicular cancer or ovarian cancer. Though very rare, some germ cell tumors occur in the abdomen, chest, and brain.
Germ cell ovarian tumors
Ovarian germ cell tumors form in the egg cells of the ovary. About the size and shape of an almond, the ovary is an organ that makes eggs and female hormones. Germ cell tumors in the ovaries typically form in young girls and teenagers.
Germ cell testicular tumors
Germ cell tumors in the testes are indicated by an enlarged, painful mass. Though rare, germ cell tumors in uncorrected, undescended testes are more common. About 95 percent of testicular cancers begin in germ cells.
Germ cell brain tumors
Germ cell tumors in the brain form in the pineal or supraseller regions. These uncommon tumors occur primarily between the ages of 11 and 30. They account for three to five percent of childhood brain tumors. The exact cause is not known.
What are the symptoms of germ cell tumors?
Germ cell tumor symptoms vary depending on the location and size of the tumor. Symptoms can include:
- A mass that can be felt
- Abdominal pain
- Constipation or incontinence
- Leg weakness
- Irregularity in testicular size or shape
- Shortness of breath (for germ cell tumors in the chest or lungs)
- Elevated levels of alpha-fetoprotein and beta-human chorionic gonadotropic
Symptoms of germ cell cancer may resemble other medical issues or conditions. If you experience germ cell tumor symptoms, consult your doctor.
What are the causes and risk factors of germ cell tumors?
Doctors don’t yet fully understand the cause of germ cell tumors. Several inherited defects have been associated with an increased risk for the disease, including:
- Central nervous system malformations
- Genitourinary tract malformations
- Lower spine malformations
- Males with undescended testes (cryptorchidism)
- Extra or missing sex chromosomes
How are germ cell tumors diagnosed and treated?
Diagnostic procedures for germ cell tumors require a medical history and physical examination by your doctor. Germ cell tumor diagnosis may also include:
- Complete blood count (CBC)
- Additional blood evaluations
- CT scan, MRI, or X-ray
- Bone scan
Your doctor and health care specialists will determine the best plan for treating germ cell tumors. Germ cell tumor treatment depends on your age and medical tolerance, as well as the cancer’s stage. Treatment for germ cell tumors may include surgery to remove the tumor and organs, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormone therapy, and supportive services.
Germ Cell Tumor Treatment at Baptist Cancer Center
At Baptist Cancer Center, we put the needs of our patients first. Providing patients and families with the best possible care is important to us, so we offer the supportive services you need, from understanding your germ cell tumor diagnosis and our leading-edge treatment options to navigating insurance and financial plans. Our team of medical doctors and specialists is dedicated to designing an individualized treatment plan to help you fight your cancer diagnosis close to home.