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Germ cells develop during pregnancy and grow into the reproductive organs of a fetus. They are present in an embryo (the tiny organism that develops into a fetus). During pregnancy, these cells develop into gonads (ovaries or testes) and descend into the pelvis (ovaries) or scrotum (testicles), where they assume their place in a fully formed fetus.
Sometimes, these cells can develop tumors. While babies with genetic conditions such as extra or missing sex chromosomes or testes that do not descend into the scrotum are more at risk for developing germ cell tumors, there is no clear cause for the condition. The chance of your child developing a germ cell tumor is small. According to the American Cancer Society, roughly four percent of childhood cancers are germ cell tumors.
Germ cell tumors can be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Most germ cell tumors occur in the ovaries or testicles, but they may also be found in other areas of the body, including the head, chest, abdomen, pelvis or lower back area.
Rarely, germ cell tumors can metastasize (spread) to other parts of the body. Common sites for metastasis include the lungs, liver, lymph nodes and central nervous system (brain and spinal cord).
Symptoms of germ cell tumors are different for each child, because tumors can develop in so many areas of the body.
The most common symptoms of germ cell tumors include:
These symptoms can be mistaken for other conditions, so it is important for your child to be seen by a doctor when he or she has unusual symptoms or a growth you can see or feel.
The doctor will review your child's complete medical history and perform a physical exam. If a germ cell tumor is suspected, he or she may order several diagnostic tests to confirm the diagnosis, including:
Doctors at Riley at IU Health determine specific treatment for germ cell tumors based on:
Your child’s long-term outlook (prognosis) greatly depends on:
Each child’s prognosis is unique to his or her individual situation. Prompt and aggressive treatment based on accurate diagnosis gives your child the best chance to overcome the tumor and any damage it may have caused. There are side effects both during treatment and after completion of therapy that require close monitoring. During treatment, your child is at increased risk for infections or bleeding. Your child’s doctor will discuss specific side effects based on the therapies (chemotherapy or radiation) he or she will receive. The doctor will discuss all these important issues with you before beginning treatment.
Sometimes the tumor may recur (come back), and this can have a significant effect on the outcome as well. Patients whose cancer recurs after receiving chemotherapy can still be cured.
Visit the trusted website below to learn more about germ cell tumors, including information about support groups and research.
Riley at IU Health offers a broad range of supportive services to make life better for families who choose us for their children's care.
The National Cancer Institute is the U.S. federal government’s primary agency dedicated to cancer research and training. Information about various germ cell tumor types can be found on the organization's website.
Through the Children’s Oncology Group, a nationwide organization, patients at Riley at IU Health can participate in experimental studies that may provide new, more effective treatments for a wide variety of cancers.
The Indiana University Health Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center is a national leader in the treatment of germ cell cancers. The Cancer & Blood Diseases Department at Riley at IU Health works closely with the IU Health Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center, so your child will receive an expert level of care.
In addition to our primary hospital location at the Academic Health Center in Indianapolis, IN, we have convenient locations to better serve our communities throughout the state.