Germ Cell Tumors are a type of childhood cancer that usually occur in the form of tumorous growths from the reproductive cells. The tumors can be either cancerous or non-cancerous in nature. The term ‘germ’ in germ cell tumour doesn’t mean germ rather comes from the word ‘germinate’ which symbolizes something which starts to grow. As the foetus or the baby develops within the mother’s womb, the germ cells move into distinct places to become either the eggs within the ovaries or the sperm within the testicles. Thus, the name of the diseased condition.
Although, most germ cell tumors that metastasize into cancerous growth either become cancer of the ovaries (i.e. ovarian cancer) or cancer of the testicles (i.e. testicular cancer), there are rare scenarios, where the germ cell tumors develop in other positions in the body. These germ cell tumors that develop in other parts of the body such as the chest, abdomen, pelvis, lower back or brain other than the testicles or ovaries are known as extragonadal germ cell tumors.Also Read: Cervical Cancer: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment
Germ Cell Tumors are characterized into the following five types:
Germinomas are usually cancerous in nature. If the germinomas are found in the ovaries, they are known as dysgerminomas, whereas if they are diagnosed in the testicles, they are termed as seminomas. The cancerous ones are usually found in the brain and are known as non-seminomatous germ cell tumors.
Also known as dermoid cysts, teratomas are one of the common types of germ cell tumors found in the ovaries. They are mostly non-cancerous, and can be treated with surgery.
The embryonal carcinoma usually mixes up with another type of germ cell tumor and convert that into cancerous cells. For example, it can mix with non-cancerous teratoma and convert the cells into cancerous ones.
Yolk Sac Tumors:
A type of germ cell tumor, which also goes by the name endodermal sinus tumors and are usually cancerous in nature. They are an aggressive form of cancer and not only do they form in the ovary and testicles but also quickly spread to the lymph nodes and thereby to other parts of the body. They are chiefly treated by surgery followed by chemotherapy.
It is a rare form of germ cell tumor and is cancerous in nature. It usually happens in the placenta and can affect both the mother and the baby.
Although the absolute cause of germ cell tumors is still undiscovered, studies resurface that like any other form of cancer, germ cell tumors also happen due to mutation in the genetic material or DNA strands of the germ cells. These unusual changes trigger the cell to grow abnormally in size and number, causing them to pile up and form tumorous growths.
Some causative factors that can lead up to germ cell tumors include:
Birth Defects: Children born with defects in the central nervous system, lower spine, genitals, and urinary tract are more at risk of having germ cell tumor.
Genetic Disorders: People born with health conditions like Klinefelter syndrome or Turner syndrome, where one either has a missing sex chromosome or an extra pair of sex chromosome makes them prone to germ cell tumour.
An Undescended Testicle: The chances of germ cell tumor increase if your child has one or both testicles that haven’t dropped into the scrotum.
Hereditary: Parents having diagnosed with germ cell tumor are likely to pass on this condition in their children as well.
The common signs and symptoms of germ cell tumor usually depend upon the type and the site of location of the tumor. These include:
Tumor in the ovaries
- Mass of tissue on the ovaries
- Abdominal pain and swelling
- Abnormal growth of breast tissue, pubic hair, or vaginal bleeding at an earlier age than normal
Tumor in the testicles
- Mass of tissue on the testicles
- Misshapen testicles
Tumor near the pelvis
- Inability to hold pee
Tumor in the abdomen
- Lump or a mass in the belly or lower abdomen
Tumor in the lower back
- Weakness in your legs
Tumor in the lungs
- Wheezing or shortness of breath
Tumor in the chest
- Chest pain
Diagnosis And Treatment
On noticing the above-mentioned symptoms, do consult a doctor right away. The doctor usually does a thorough physical checkup, acknowledges the patient’s medical and genetic history and usually conducts a series of diagnostics including:
- Blood test
- Genetic test
- Imaging techniques like CT-scan, MRI-scan, Bone scan, X-ray, and Ultrasound
Depending upon the position of the tumor and severity of the condition the doctor may suggest the following treatment options:
- Radiation therapy