About Germ Cell Tumors
The term “germ cell” comes from the term “geminate,” which means giving life. In humans, germ cells produce specialized cells needed for reproduction: sperm cells in boys and egg cells in girls. Germ cell cancer is a rare tumor that affects children, teens, and adults. About 900 children and adolescents are diagnosed with germ cell tumors in the U.S. each year, comprising about 4% of all childhood cancers. These tumors most commonly appear in the testes for boys and the ovaries for girls. However, these tumors can also arise in the abdomen and pelvis, the mediastinum (the part of the chest between the breastplate and the spinal column), and the brain.
There are two types of germ cell tumors: malignant (life-threatening) or benign (not life-threatening). Malignant germ cell tumors include several types of cancer, such as immature teratoma, yolk sac tumor, embryonal carcinoma, and choriocarcinoma. They can impact the testes or ovaries and can spread to other parts of the body. Benign germ cell tumors include certain kinds of teratomas, a type of tumor that may contain several different types of tissue. Although these benign tumors are not as difficult to treat as malignant tumors, they can cause problems because of their size.