Germ Cell Tumours

Germ Cell Tumours are a family of cancers that arise from tissue in the reproductive system – such as the testicles in boys and ovaries in girls, but they can occur elsewhere.

They are called Germ Cell Tumours because they arise from primordial germ cells which go on to become the specialised cells that make sperm in boys or eggs in girls.

Germ cell tumours that occur in the testicles or ovaries are called ‘gonadal’ germ cell tumours, whilst those that arise in other parts of the body are called ‘extragonadal’ germ cell tumours.

Signs and Symptoms

How germ cell tumours are first noticed depends on the location and size of the tumour. For example: testicular tumours usually present as a painless lump in a young boy whereas ovarian tumours are more difficult to detect and are often not diagnosed until the child is older and has developed non-specific symptoms such as tummy pain or constipation.

Diagnosis

  • CT, MRI and ultrasounds will be used to determine the size of the tumour, whether it has spread and whether it can be safely removed by surgery.
  • Blood tests are used to measure alpha-fetoprotein and beta-HCG levels – these are proteins made by some germ cell tumours and levels are often very high at the time of diagnosis. Therefore they can be used as markers and to monitor the progress of treatment.
  • Diagnosis is usually confirmed with a biopsy and examination of a piece of the tumour under a microscope.

Staging

  • Stage I – tumour completely removed by surgery
  • Stage II – a very small amount of tumour left behind after surgery
  • Stage III –a substantial amount of tumour left behind after surgery
  • Stage IV – tumour has spread to other parts of the body

Treatment 

Treatment options generally include surgery and chemotherapy. Tumours that are completely removable do not need further therapy whereas those that cannot be completely removed will require treatment with chemotherapy.

Prognosis

Germ cell tumours are quite rare in children but cure rates are excellent with 80-90% children able to be cured with modern therapy.