Germ cell tumors are congenital (present before birth), rare, and can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Germ cells develop in the embryo and make up the reproductive system, eventually producing sperm in males and eggs in females. If abnormal groupings of germ cells develop, they can become tumors, developing in the ovaries or testes as well as other areas outside the reproductive system, including the brain, chest, tailbone, abdomen, pelvis, and central nervous system. The most common germ cell tumor is called a teratoma, which is often benign and usually found on the tailbone (sacrococcygeal), which is good for early detection.
At the Solid Tumor Oncology Program, part of C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan, we provide comprehensive, multidisciplinary care for children with germ cell tumors.
Our dedicated team of specialists evaluates your child in a single visit, and will create a customized treatment plan and begin your individualized treatment plan immediately. We are one of the first in the nation to offer this type of collaborative care for children with cancer. We are also one of the nation’s largest multidisciplinary programs caring for children with solid tumors, and have the largest pediatric oncology research effort in the state.
Our Tumor Board meets weekly to discuss the care and treatment of children who are newly diagnosed with cancer, those currently on therapy, and families seeking a second opinion. Pediatric oncologists, surgeons, radiation oncologists, pathologists, radiologists and nuclear medicine physicians attend the Tumor Board, allowing for our collective expertise to provide thorough, comprehensive approach to the care of children with cancer.
Germ Cell Tumors Symptoms
Symptoms will vary depending on tumor size and where it is located. Symptoms can include:
- A mass or swelling
- Abnormally shaped or sized testicle
- Leg weakness
- Elevated levels of alpha-fetoprotein (a protein in the blood)
- Elevated levels of beta-human chorionic gonadotropin (a hormone that can be produced by a cancerous tumor)
Diagnosis Germ Cell Tumors
Diagnosis of germ cell tumors begins by with a thorough health history and performing a comprehensive physical examination. Some testing will be required and may include a complete blood count, an alpha–fetoprotein test (a protein produced by the liver that can be used both for diagnosing and determining response to treatment), an x-ray, an ultrasound, a CT scan, an MRI, and a bone scan. A biopsy, most commonly performed by removing a small piece of tissue from the body for examination under a microscope, will help your doctor make a definitive diagnosis.
If a germ cell tumor is the diagnosis, your doctor will stage the tumor, which determines if and how far the cancer has spread. Staging the tumor will help determine a treatment plan.
Germ Cell Tumors Treatment
Every child’s treatment plan is individualized, based on the patient’s needs and the specific tumor, utilizing cutting-edge technology and the latest research. Treatment options include:
Fetal care - For infants diagnosed with sacrococcygeal teratoma prenatally, our Fetal Diagnosis and Treatment Center offers comprehensive diagnostic capabilities, preganancy care and monitoring of the fetus, and fetal treatment when appropriate, in addition to follow-up care with our specialists after the infant is born.
Surgery – the standard therapy for treating germ cell tumors is surgery to remove the tumors.
Chemotherapy – if the tumor is malignant or has spread, chemotherapy is generally recommended. Chemotherapy is the treatment of cancer with drugs that can destroy cancer cells. Chemotherapy includes a variety of drugs that are given in a variety of ways. We provide all available chemotherapy options, including continuous infusion chemotherapy, which is given slowly over one or more days through a pump that you carry with you.
Radiation – Radiation therapy is another treatment option if the cancer has spread. Radiation is the use of high-energy radiation – primarily X-rays – to kill cancer cells. When radiation treatments are given for cancer, special care is taken to ensure that as much normal tissue as possible is spared from radiation exposure. The radiation dose is precisely measured and carefully aimed to kill as many cancer cells as possible while sparing normal tissue. Learn more about radiation therapy at Mott Children’s Hospital.
Clinical trials – Our specialists are at the center of developing new therapies for cancer. In fact, C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital is one of only a few pediatric centers in the country providing patients access to Phase 1 clinical trials. Phase 1 clinical trials give patients at University of Michigan access to pivotal early-stage studies, connecting families to novel treatment therapies to patients before they are widely available.
At any time, you can ask your doctor or any of our health care professionals about clinical trial participation opportunities or you can view or sign up for studies that are currently recruiting participants at UMclinicaltrials.org.