Germ Cell Tumor - Childhood: Introduction

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 04/2022

ON THIS PAGE: You will find some basic information about this disease and the parts of the body it may affect. This is the first page of Cancer.Net’s Guide to Childhood Germ Cell Tumors. Use the menu to see other pages. Think of that menu as a roadmap for this entire guide.

Germ cells are special cells in a developing embryo—also called the fetus or unborn baby—that become the eggs in ovaries or the sperm in testicles. Rarely, during development of the embryo, these cells may also travel to other areas of the body and form a tumor. A tumor is a mass that forms when normal cells change and grow out of control. A tumor can be cancerous or benign. A cancerous tumor is malignant, meaning it can spread to other parts of the body. A benign tumor means the tumor can grow but will not spread.

Types of germ cell tumors

Germ cells may travel to the chest, abdomen, or brain. Intracranial germ cell tumors are germ cell tumors that form in the brain. For information on a germ cell tumor in the brain, read about childhood central nervous system tumors. Extracranial germ cell tumors are found outside of the brain.

There are 2 different categories of germ cell tumors that start in the testicles or ovaries: seminomas and non-seminomas. Generally, non-seminomas tend to grow and spread more quickly than seminomas, but prompt diagnosis and treatment are important for both types of germ cell tumors.

Germ cell tumors outside of the brain are classified as either gonadal or extragonadal.

  • Gonadal germ cell tumors. Gonadal germ cell tumors start and stay in a child’s reproductive organs, which are the testicles or ovaries. For more information on a germ cell tumor in the reproductive organs, read about ovarian and testicular cancer.

  • Extragonadal germ cell tumors. Extragonadal germ cell tumors start in a child’s reproductive system but then travel to different parts of the body. Germ cells that occur outside the gonads (reproductive organs) and outside the brain are called extragonadal and extracranial. These generally occur in early childhood and commonly begin in the sacrum and the coccyx, which are the lowest parts of the spinal column. An extracranial, extragonadal germ cell tumor found in teenagers and young adults is often located in the mediastinum, which is the center of the chest.

This guide covers extracranial, extragonadal germ cell tumors.

Looking for More of an Introduction?

If you would like more of an introduction, explore these related items. Please note that these links will take you to other sections on Cancer.Net:

The next section in this guide is Statistics. It helps explain the number of people who are diagnosed with a germ cell tumor and general survival rates. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.