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Germ Cell Tumors
Note: This section has health/medical information. It was not written by a health care professional. The medical references are:
- NCI web site sections on the germ cell tumors, accessed 2009
- Childhood Cancer: A Parents Guide to Solid Tumor Cancers, 2th ed., by Honna Janes-Hodder and Nancy Keene, 2002
Recommended web site: Extracranial germ cell tumors on cancer.gov
Germ cell tumors originate in sperm (testicles) or egg (ovary) cells, and can migrate to other parts of the body, or they can remain in the tissue of origin. Germ cell tumors of the ovary are uncommon but aggressive tumors seen most often in young women or preteen and adolescent girls, and are generally curable if found and treated early. Use of combination chemotherapy after initial surgery has dramatically improved the prognosis for many of these tumors.
Ovarian germ cell tumors can be difficult to diagnose early. Often there are no symptoms in the early stages. Because young girls have yet to have a gynecologic examination, the only symptoms may be a swelling or hard distended abdomen without weight gain (with or with out pain).
Tests that may be used to indicate this type of tumor are an ultrasound or CT scan. (Also for older patients the first step would be an internal - pelvic -exam).
Prognosis and choice of treatment depend on the type of tumor and stage of the tumor (whether it affects one ovary, both, or has spread to other places).
The classifications of germ cell tumors include dysgerminoma, endodermal sinus tumor, embryonal carcinoma, polyembryoma, choriocarcinoma, teratoma, solid cystic, monodermal, and mixed forms. Please see the cancer.gov site for the most up-to-date information.
Once ovarian germ cell tumor has been found, surgery and staging is the first course of action. Staging determines if the cancer has spread from the ovaries to other parts of the body. The operation is called a laparotomy.
The cancerous tumor is removed and other organs are checked to see if they contain cancer. A biopsy is taken to determine the type of tumor.
The following stages are used for ovarian germ cell tumor:
- Stage I: Cancer is found only in one or both of the ovaries.
- Stage II: Cancer is found in one or both ovaries and/or has spread to the uterus, and/or the fallopian tubes, and/or other body parts within the pelvis.
- Stage III: Cancer is found in one or both ovaries and has spread to lymph nodes or to other body parts inside the abdomen, such as the surface of the liver or intestine.
- Stage IV: Cancer is found in one or both ovaries and has spread outside the abdomen or has spread to the inside of the liver.
- Recurrent: Recurrent disease means that the cancer has come back (recurred) after it has been treated. It may come back in the ovary that is left or in another place.
Many of these tumors have a marker that shows up in the blood that indicates the tumors presence. Levels of alphafetoprotein (AFP) and human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) should be obtained as soon as the diagnosis is established. The levels should decrease after surgery, a failure to do so would indicate a remaining tumor. Monitoring these levels can also indicate a recurrence.
Surgery and chemotherapy is the most common treatment for ovarian germ cell tumor.
If the tumor is ovarian, one or both ovaries may be removed along with fallopian tubes and sometimes the uterus. All efforts are made to preserve fertility whenever possible. Some stage one tumors can be treated with surgery alone. Depending on the stage and type of tumor, radiation or chemotherapy are also used.
Chemotherapy combinations containing cisplatin, etoposide, and bleomycin (BEP) are now preferred because of a lower relapse rate and shorter treatment time. Other treatment plans may include VAC or PVB (cisplatin/vinblastine/bleomycin) chemotherapy.
The following ped-onc resource lists have appropriate sections for parents of children with brain tumors:
- books and printed materials - especially note "Childhood Cancer, A Parent's Guide to Solid Tumor Cancers" by Janes-Hodder and Keene
- young people with germ cell tumors - germ cell tumors are listed on the "other" cancer pages
The following web sites provide good, general information on germ cell cancers and their treatment.
These pages are intended for informational purposes only and are not intended to render medical advice. The information provided on Ped Onc Resource Center should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or a disease. It is not a substitute for professional care. If you suspect your child has a health problem, you should consult your health care provider.