Germ cell tumors in children are growths that typically develop from reproductive cells in the ovaries in girls and in the testes in boys. In addition to gonadal germ cell tumors, the growths can occur in several other parts of the body, including the lower back, abdomen, chest, and inside the brain.
Germ cell cancers are not common, which is why it is critical to choose a medical center with top tier technologies and specialists who are experienced in diagnosing and treating the disease. At Sheba, every treatment program for children with germ cell tumors is custom designed at our Pediatric Hemato-Oncology Division, using the latest techniques and based on an integrative approach to healing. Depending on where the tumor is located, our hemato-oncologists collaborate with pediatric specialists from the Urology Department, Gynecology Department and the Surgery Division.
About Germ Cell Tumors
Germ cell tumors are considered rare, accounting for approximately 4% of all cases of pediatric cancer. They can be benign or cancerous, and while both types can grow, only malignant tumors can spread to other organs.
In boys, the incidence of germ cell tumors peaks at around two years old, then declines and only increases again in adolescence. In girls, diagnosis of germ cell tumors is rare until about age 6, and then it rises until about age 15. The overall prognosis for children diagnosed with germ cell tumors has approximately a 93% survival rate, and that rate rises to 99% with regard to gonadal germ cell tumors specifically.
What are the Risk Factors for Germ Cell Tumors?
- Cryptorchidism: An undescended testicle raises the risk for a boy to develop a testicular germ cell tumor.
- Turner syndrome: This genetic condition, which occurs in girls, is linked to a higher chance of developing a benign germ cell tumor that can eventually become cancerous.
- Intersex conditions: Androgen insensitivity, which involves resistance to male hormones called androgens, increases the risk of developing a gonadal germ cell tumor.
- Klinefelter syndrome: This genetic condition that occurs in males is linked to a higher risk of a germ cell tumor in the chest.
What are the Symptoms a Germ Cell Tumor?
A germ cell tumor that is extragonadal (and not located in the brain) may cause the following symptoms:
- Pain in the affected area
- Urinary retention
- Cough and/or trouble breathing, respiratory distress
What are the Types and Stages of Germ Cell Tumors?
There are several types of germ cell tumors, categorized by their pathology:
- Benign teratoma
- Malignant teratoma
- Yolk sac tumor
- Embryonal carcinoma
The staging of these tumors describes where the tumor is located, if it has spread and whether or not it is affecting other parts of the body. Diagnostic tests are used to determine the stage, and Sheba’s doctors use the stage to help design the best personalized treatment program.
These pathologic stages are used for germ cell tumors:
- Stage I: The tumor has been entirely removed, and tumor markers have returned to normal.
- Stage II: Tumor was removed, but microscopic traces of the tumor are still present after surgery.
- Stage III: Visible traces of tumor are evident in the lymph nodes.
- Recurrent: The tumor has come back after treatment.
Stage IV: The tumor has spread to other areas of the body, such as the lungs or liver.
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