Children's Cancer Centre

Germ Cell Tumours

  • What is a Germ Cell Tumour?

    Germ cells are the cells that become an embryo, which develops into a child in the womb. Some of these cells remain in different parts of a child's body after birth and may produce tumours. Some tumours produced by germ cells are benign and some are malignant. Germ cell tumours may appear at any age. The most common sites for germ cell tumours to develop are the testes, ovaries, in the middle of the brain, chest and abdomen and the area at the bottom of the spine (sacrococcygeal region). There are different names for the tumour, depending on where or what cell type, eg. Yolk sac tumour or teratoma.

    Signs & Symptoms

    Symptoms vary depending on where the tumour is, but usually a lump appears or can be felt.

    Diagnosis

    To diagnose a germ cell tumour a biopsy of the tumour is done. These tumours produce alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) and human chorionic gonadotrophin (HCG) which can be measured by blood tests. Other tests, including a chest X-ray, a bone scan, a CT, MRI scan or ultrasound and a bone marrow aspiration will be done to see whether the tumour has spread to other parts of the child's body. (Refer to section on tests and procedures)

    Treatment

    If the tumour can be removed by surgery then this will cure a benign tumour and some malignant tumours. If the tumour is in the testes or ovary it is necessary to remove the entire testicle or ovary. If cells of a malignant tumour have spread to other parts of the body chemotherapy will also be required. Often chemotherapy is given prior to surgery, particularly in sacro-coccygeal tumours, or if metastases are present at diagnosis.

    Follow up care

    During and following treatment the child will have regular blood tests to measure the levels of AFP and HCG. A high level may suggest that the tumour has not been cured or has recurred, and further treatment may be needed. After the first few years the focus of follow up changes to monitoring growth and development and other possible later side effects of treatment.