Germ cell cancer can develop in children and adults. Researchers don’t know exactly what causes germ cell cancers to form, but they have identified some risk factors.
Germ cell tumors are abnormal growths that form in the cells that become eggs or sperm. Roughly
Most germ cell cancers form in the testicles or ovaries, but they can develop almost anywhere in your body.
Germ cell cancers can develop in children or adults. They’re estimated to make up
In this article, we take a deeper look at germ cell cancers, including who’s at risk, how they develop, and how they’re treated.
Germ cell cancer develops in cells that become eggs or sperm. It usually develops in your ovaries or testes, but it can also develop in other places. According to the
Ovarian germ cell cancer makes up about
|Ovarian germ cell cancers per million people
|0 to 9
|10 to 19
|20 to 39
Extragonadal germ cell cancer
When germ cell cancer develops outside your ovaries or testicles, it’s known as extragonadal germ cell cancer. In adults, extragonadal germ cell cancer only makes up about
It’s not clear why extragonadal cancers develop, but it’s thought to do with how germ cells develop before birth. When a fetus grows in the womb, cells that produce eggs or sperm usually move to the testes or ovaries. Sometimes, though, they settle in other body parts. The most common places they settle are:
- at the base of the spine
Some of the more common types of germ cell cancers include:
- Teratomas: Teratomas are tumors that can be cancerous. They most often develop in your tailbone or reproductive organs.
- Germinomas: Germinomas are referred to as dysgerminomas when they occur in your ovaries and seminomas if they develop in your testicles.
Germ cell cancersthat develop in the testicles are usually classified as seminomas or nonseminomas.
- Yolk sac tumor: Yolk sac tumors most often develop in the reproductive organs or tailbone. They’re the
most commontesticular cancer in children.
- Choriocarcinoma: Choriocarcinoma is a cancerous tumor that usually forms in the placenta and can affect the fetus and mother. It tends to grow rapidly and is very rare.
- Embryonal carcinoma: Embryonal carcinoma usually forms in the testicles of adolescent males. About
40%of testicular tumors have features of this cancer, but only 3% to 4% are pure embryonal carcinoma.
Symptoms of germ cell cancer depend on where the cancer develops. The vast majority of germ cell cancers in adults occur in the testicles or ovaries.
Testicular germ cell cancer may cause:
- a lump in your testicles
- dull ache between your belly and groin
- back pain
- pain around a testicle
- scrotal swelling
According to the
Researchers don’t know exactly why germ cell cancers form, but they have identified some conditions that seem to increase the odds of developing them:
- Klinefelter syndrome: Klinefelter syndrome is when a person assigned male at birth has an extra X chromosome.
- Androgen insensitivity syndrome: This condition develops when a person who’s assigned male at birth is insensitive to male hormones.
- Turner syndrome: Turner syndrome is when a girl is born missing an X chromosome.
- Cryptorchidism: Cryptorchidism is when a male child is born with an undescended testicle.
People assigned male at birth are at a higher risk of developing germ cell tumors overall. However, in children, those assigned female at birth develop germ cell tumors about
- small testicular volume
- family history
Ovarian germ cell tumors
Doctors start the diagnostic process by performing a physical exam and considering your medical history.
Imaging can be used to locate a tumor. Your doctor may order:
Blood tests often reveal tumor markers called alpha-fetoprotein and human chorionic gonadotrophin that are suggestive of germ cell cancer.
Doctors can confirm a diagnosis by taking a small tissue sample called a biopsy so that the cells can be analyzed in a lab. Sometimes, the cancer can be diagnosed without a biopsy with the results of imaging and blood tests alone.
The best treatment for germ cell cancer depends on factors such as:
- how advanced the cancer is
- where the cancer is located
- your overall health
- your age
Extragonadal germ cell treatment
According to the
- radiation therapy
High-dose chemotherapy with stem cell transplant is being investigated in clinical trials.
Testicular cancer treatment
Ovarian germ cell cancer treatment
- radiation therapy
- high-dose chemotherapy with bone marrow transplant
Treatment for germ cell cancers not located in the head
Clinical trials are examining:
- radiation therapy
- high dose chemotherapy with stem cell transplant
Your outlook if you have germ cell cancer depends on the specific type of cancer you have and where it’s located. Many types have high chances of survival.
The 5-year survival rate for ovarian germ cell cancer is about
The 10-year cancer-specific survival rate for stage 1 testicular germ cell cancer is about 99.7%. This means that only 3 out of 1,000 people die from factors related to the cancer within 10 years.
The 5-year survival rate for testicular germ cell cancer that has spread to other body parts is around 48% to 64% for people in the highest-risk group.
For children under 15, the 5-year survival rate for ovarian and testicular germ cells is
A small number of children develop long-term side effects from treatment that may develop years later. These side effects include kidney problems, lung problems, and hearing loss.
Germ cell cancer starts in the cells that become sperm or eggs. They can develop in almost any part of your body if these cells spread while you’re still developing in the womb.
Your outlook with germ cell cancer depends on which type of cancer you have. Many types have high survival rates and can be managed with treatments such as chemotherapy, surgery, or radiation therapy.