Extracranial germ cell tumors are tumors that develop from germ cells (fetal cells that give rise to sperm and eggs) and can form in many parts of the body. They are most common in teenagers and can often be cured. Explore the links on this page to learn more about extracranial germ cell tumors, how they are treated, and clinical trials that are available.

Childhood Extracranial Germ Cell Tumors Treatment

  • Childhood extracranial germ cell tumors form from germ cells in parts of the body other than the brain.
  • Childhood extracranial germ cell tumors may be benign or malignant.
  • Childhood extracranial germ cell tumors are grouped as gonadal or extragonadal extracranial tumors.
    • Gonadal Germ Cell Tumors
    • Extragonadal Extracranial Germ Cell Tumors
  • There are three types of extracranial germ cell tumors.
    • Teratomas
    • Malignant Germ Cell Tumors
    • Mixed Germ Cell Tumors
  • The cause of most childhood extracranial germ cell tumors is unknown.
  • Having certain inherited disorders can increase the risk of extracranial germ cell tumors.
  • Signs of childhood extracranial germ cell tumors depend on where the tumor formed in the body.
  • Imaging studies and blood tests are used to detect (find) and diagnose childhood extracranial germ cell tumors.
  • Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment.

Childhood extracranial germ cell tumors form from germ cells in parts of the body other than the brain.

A germ cell is a type of cell that forms as a fetus (unborn baby) develops. These cells later become sperm in the testicles or eggs in the ovaries.

This summary is about germ cell tumors that form in parts of the body that are extracranial (outside the brain). Extracranial germ cell tumors usually form in the following areas of the body:

  • Testicles.
  • Ovaries.
  • Sacrum or coccyx (tailbone).
  • Retroperitoneum (area in the back of the abdomen behind the tissue that lines the abdominal wall and covers most of the organs in the abdomen).
  • Mediastinum (area between the lungs).
  • Head and neck.

Extracranial germ cell tumors are most common in adolescents.

See the PDQ summary on Childhood Central Nervous System Germ Cell Tumors Treatment for information on intracranial (inside the brain) germ cell tumors.

There are three types of extracranial germ cell tumors.

Extracranial germ cell tumors are also grouped into teratomas, malignant germ cell tumors, and mixed germ cell tumors:

Teratomas

There are two main types of teratomas:

  • Mature teratomas. These tumors are the most common type of extracranial germ cell tumor. Mature teratomas are benign tumors and not likely to become cancer. They usually occur in the sacrum or coccyx in newborns or in the testicles or ovaries at the start of puberty. The cells of mature teratomas look almost like normal cells under a microscope. Some mature teratomas release enzymes or hormones that cause signs and symptoms of disease.
  • Immature teratomas. These tumors usually occur in areas other than the gonads in young children or in the ovaries at the start of puberty. They have cells that look very different from normal cells under a microscope. Immature teratomas may be cancer and spread to other parts of the body. They often have several different types of tissue in them, such as hair, muscle, and bone. Some immature teratomas release enzymes or hormones that cause signs and symptoms of disease.

Having certain inherited disorders can increase the risk of extracranial germ cell tumors.

Anything that increases your risk of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn’t mean that you will not get cancer. Talk with your child’s doctor if you think your child may be at risk.

Possible risk factors for extracranial germ cell tumors include the following:

Having certain genetic syndromes:
Klinefelter syndrome may increase the risk of germ cell tumors in the mediastinum.
Swyer syndrome may increase the risk of gonadoblastoma and seminoma.
Turner syndrome may increase the risk of gonadoblastoma and dysgerminoma.
Having an undescended testicle may increase the risk of testicular cancer.
Having gonadal dysgenesis (the gonad—ovary or testicle—has not formed normally) may increase the risk of gonadoblastoma.

 

What is Cancer?

  • Cancer can start almost anywhere in the human body, which is made up of trillions of cells. Normally, human cells grow and divide to form new cells as the body needs them. When cells grow old or become damaged, they die, and new cells take their place.

  • Cancer prevention is action taken to lower the risk of getting cancer. This can include maintaining a healthy lifestyle, avoiding exposure to known cancer-causing substances, and taking medicines or vaccines that can prevent cancer from developing.

  • Cancer can cause many different symptoms. Most often these symptoms are not caused by cancer, but by benign tumors or other problems. If you have symptoms that last for a couple of weeks, your doctor will do a physical exam and order tests or other procedures to find out what is causing your symptoms.