What are Childhood Germ Cell Tumors?
Germ cells are the reproductive cells that develop into testicles in boys and ovaries in girls. Sometimes, but rarely, these cells travel to other areas of the body and may develop into a rare type of cancer called germ cell tumor (this page covers germ cell tumors that occur extracranially – everywhere but in the brain). Most germ cell tumors are benign (noncancerous) and are very rare in children under age 15.
Types of Germ Cell Tumors
Testicular germ cell tumors of early childhood: forms within the testes of young boys
Testicular germ cell tumors of adolescence and young adulthood: occurs within the testes of older boys; two classifications: seminoma or nonseminoma
Extragonadal, extracranial germ cell tumors of early childhood: any type not located in either the testicles or ovaries or in the brain; usually located in the sacrum (section of bone between the hip bones at base of spine) and the coccyx (tailbone)
Extragonadal, extracranial germ cell tumors of adolescence and young adulthood: usually located within the chest
Ovarian germ cell tumors: affects teenage girls and young women; cancer cells are found in egg-making cells in an ovary.
These tumors get their start while the child is still in the mother’s womb, very early in pregnancy. Cells that are designed to form the reproductive system break away and travel to other parts of the body. Later in the child’s life, they can develop into tumors. There is no way to prevent this disease.
Symptoms will vary depending on the location of the tumor. Some common symptoms include:
For boys: painless swelling or mass in the testicles
For girls: abdominal pain
Diagnosing Childhood Extracranial Germ Cell Tumor
If symptoms are present, a doctor will complete a physical exam and may perform other various tests in order to find the cause of symptoms. Specific tests are determined by the location of the mass and may include a CT (or CAT) scan, a biopsy, blood tests, pelvic exam and/or a laparotomy.
A treatment plan will be determined by the type of tumor that exists, the stage of the disease, whether or not it is malignant (cancerous), as well as your child's age and general health. Treatment options may include surgery and/or chemotherapy.: