Germ cell cancers can appear at any age but occur is less than 45 children each year. They may sometimes be given a different name depending on their characteristics including: yolk-sac cancers, germinomas, embryonal carcinomas, mature teratomas and immature teratomas1
As a baby develops during pregnancy, the cells that will eventually produce eggs or sperm move to the ovaries or testes. Sometimes these cells settle in other parts of the body such as the bottom of the spine, the brain, chest or abdomen and develop in cancers. These can be benign or malignant and can even fall into a category called “immature teratomas”, which can spread locally.
Symptoms of Germ Cell Cancers
The symptoms a child will display from a Germ Cell Cancer will vary depending on the size, type and position of the cancer. It usually starts as a lump but other symptoms can develop depending on the position – for example a cancer may press on nearby tissue or organs2
If a Germ Cell Cancer is suspected, a biopsy is usually taken to verity. Sometimes a CT or MRI scan may be required to see if the cancer has spread and to verify the location and position. Sometimes blood tests are used as Germ Cell cancers often produce markers that can be found in the blood.
Once diagnosed Germ Cells Cancers are given a stage which will signify the size and spread of the cancer. This will often dictate the course of treatment required to treat the cancer. The stages include:
• Stage 1 – the cancer is small, has not spread and has been completely removed.
• Stages 2 and 3 – the cancer is larger and may not have been completely removed, or may have spread to nearby organs.
• Stage 4 – the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. 2
Currently the cause of Germ Cell cancers is unknown.
The number of children in England Diagnosed with a germ cell or gonadal cancer between 2003 and 2012 was 506 accounting for 3.5% of cancers diagnosed in that period3
Treatments for Germ Cell Cancers will depend on the staging and placement of the cancer.
If the Germ Cell cancer is outside the brain, surgery or chemotherapy is an option. Germ Cell Cancers are very sensitive the chemotherapy, but sometimes a combination of both surgery and chemotherapy is required.
If the cancer is in the brain and is malignant then radiotherapy may be needed instead of chemotherapy. Surgery is rare in this kind of cancer2
The below is based on the five-year survival rate for children who were diagnosed under the age of 15 in England.
For those diagnosed in 2008-2012 the survival rate for Germ cell and gonadal cancers was 93% 3
Although free of cancer, approximately 60% of childhood cancer survivors will suffer from “late-effects” caused by the treatments used to save their lives 4