Germ cell tumors can be either benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous). These tumors develop from the cells which produce eggs or sperm. They mainly develop at the testicles or the ovaries, but they can also appear at any part of the body such as the chest, tailbone, or brain, these are known as extragonadal tumors. Germ cell tumors can develop at any age, but they are most common in children, teenagers, and young adults.
Germ cell tumors may be treated with surgery to remove the tumor, chemotherapy with drugs that kill cancer cells, and radiation therapy with powerful energy beams.
Types of germ cell tumors
Germ cell tumors can be benign or malignant. Tumors of both types can grow in size, but only cancerous germ cell tumors can spread to other parts of the body. Cancer that has spread (metastasized) can harm your organs and makes treatment more challenging. The following are the types of germ cell tumor:
- Teratomas: these are tumors that contain many types of tissues such as teeth, hair, muscle, and bone. The most typical type of ovarian germ cell tumors are mature teratomas, also known as dermoid cysts which commonly are benign. Teratomas could be mature and immature, but immature is usually malignant and spread quickly.
- Germinomas: is form of germ cell tumor that develop in the ovaries (also called dysgerminoma) or testes (also called seminoma) or other part of the body such as the brain and spinal cord.
- Yolk sac tumors: also known as endodermal sinus tumors. These tumors include cells like those found in an embryonic development. These tumors spread rapidly to the lymph nodes and other organs since they are malignant. The most common of malignant germ cell tumor diagnoses in children are yolk sac tumors.
- Embryonal cell carcinoma: A rare malignant germ cell tumor called embryonic cell carcinoma. Despite frequently co-existing with other tumor types in mixed germ cell tumors, it may develop solely.
- Polyembryomas: Polyembryomas are tumors that have parts that resemble embryos. Rarely they are rapidly expanding malignant tumors, they frequently coexist with other varieties of germ cell tumors.
- Choriocarcinomas: Cells that develop into the placenta during pregnancy. Choriocarcinoma is a rare malignant germ cell tumor that most frequently affects the uterus (womb) but can also develop in the ovaries or testicles. Both the parent and the fetus are susceptible to its spread.
- Mixed germ cell tumors: these cancerous germ cell tumors include two or more different types.
Germ cell tumor symptoms might vary depending on the size and location of the tumor present in your body.
- Ovaries: germ cell tumors in the ovaries do not always cause symptoms. Mature teratomas may not show symptoms until they are large enough to put pressure on your abdomen. Symptoms may include:
- Pain or discomfort at pelvic.
- Painful and swelling of abdomen
- Painful mass at the ovary
- Bleeding between the periods
- Testicles: The symptoms of a germ cell tumor in the testicles are similar to those of testicular cancer. Symptoms include:
- Firm and solid lump at the testicles that may or may not cause pain when it grows larger.
- Painful scrotum
- Abdominal or groin pain
- Back pain
- Extragonadal: Teratoma can be identified by a tumor on the child’s tailbone or in the middle of their chest. Depending on where the tumor is located, there may be additional extragonadal germ cell tumor symptoms.
- Difficulty in breathing (lungs)
- Difficulty in urination and defecation (pelvis)
- Weakness of the lower extremities (Low back)
- Dull pain and swelling of the abdomen in children
Some cases of germ cell tumors can release reproductive hormones, which in children can lead to early puberty symptoms or abnormal sexual development.
It is unknown why germ cells develop immaturely and form into a tumor. Normal germ cells form in a developing embryo. These cells eventually develop to the embryo’s testicles or ovaries, where they will develop into egg or sperm cells. Germ cell tumors are made up of immature eggs or sperm cells. The ovaries or testicles may develop a tumor because of the germ cells abnormal division.
Extragonadal tumors are tumors that develop in unusual locations on the body, such as the chest, brain, abdomen, low back, and tailbone.
The following risks may include:
- History: If a family member has a history of germ cell tumor then the person will have a higher risk to develop germ cell tumor.
- Genetic disorder: Turner syndrome and Klinefelter syndrome are two names for genetic disorder where a patient has an extra or missing chromosome.
- Untreated undescended testicle (testicles that haven’t dropped into the scrotum, either one or both).