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Health Information For Parents
Germ cells are the reproductive cells in an unborn baby. In boys, the cells make sperm and in girls, they make eggs.
Before they settle into the reproductive organs, germ cells develop along the baby’s “midline.” This is the area where the stomach and other internal organs will lie.
Germ cells that grow in an unusual way can become a
. Often, these tumors form in the ovaries or testes. Because the germ cells travel along the midline to reach the reproductive organs as a fetus grows, they can sometimes settle in other places.
The most common sites for germ cell tumors outside of the reproductive organs are:
Sometimes, a tumor can develop in the middle part of the brain.
Like tumors that form in other places in the body, germ cell tumors can be
(not cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). The most common types of germ cell tumors include:
Teratomas. These tumors are benign, but can become malignant. Teratomas are the most common type of germ cell tumor to develop in extragonadal (not in the ovary or testes) areas. Doctors usually treat teratomas with surgery because chemotherapy doesn’t work in a benign tumor.
Germinomas. These malignant tumors are also called dysgerminomas when they’re in the ovary, or seminomas when they’re in the testes. They also can be in the middle part of the brain.
Yolk sac tumor (also called endodermal sinus tumor). These malignant tumors most often develop in the ovaries, testes, or tailbone.
Embryonal carcinoma. These malignant tumors usually form in the testicle of an adolescent boy, but can spread (
) to other places in the body.
Choriocarcinoma. This malignant tumor usually forms in the placenta during pregnancy and can affect both the mother and child.
The cause of most germ cell tumors isn’t always known. Doctors do know that some medical conditions can make children more likely to develop them. These include:
Boys with undescended testicles (testes that stay up inside the pelvis) also seem to be at a higher risk for a germ cell tumor.
Early on, a child with a benign or malignant germ cell tumor might have few symptoms or none at all. As the tumor grows, a mass (lump) may be felt. It also might cause symptoms as it presses against organs in the body.
Depending on where the tumor is, it can cause symptoms like:
If a doctor thinks that a child might have a tumor, he or she will do a physical exam and order these tests:
Imaging studies. These might include a CT scan, MRI, X-ray, ultrasound, and a bone scan. These tests help doctors see the size of the tumor and where it is. They can also help show if cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
Biopsy. In a biopsy, doctors take a small piece of tissue for examination in a lab. This closer look by a
(cancer doctor) make a diagnosis and choose the right treatment. Biopsies often can be done through a laparoscope using a small incision (cut) and a camera to guide the doctor. A more complicated surgery might be needed based on the tumor’s location.
Blood tests. Tests such as a blood count, kidney test, and liver test measure minerals in the blood. The results show how well the liver and other organs are working. Alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) and beta-human chorionic gonadotropin (β-HCG) tests look for higher than normal levels of these proteins (called tumor markers). Higher levels can suggest a germ cell tumor. These tests also can show how the cancer treatment is working and, after treatment, whether the tumor has come back.
Doctors might order genetic tests if a tumor could be related to a genetic condition.
Children with benign germ cell tumors will have surgery to remove the tumor. Those with malignant tumors will first go through a process called staging.
Staging is a classification system that helps doctors figure out how far the cancer has progressed. It looks at things like:
This information, as well as a child’s age and overall health, helps doctors form treatment plans. The plans may include these options, used together or alone:
Surgery. Children with malignant tumors may have surgery to remove as many of the cancerous cells as possible.
Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy works to treat cancer throughout the body. Chemo is also the most important therapy to treat microscopic (very tiny) cells that can hide in other parts of the body but aren’t seen on a scan or felt on exam. Often, doctors combine several chemotherapy drugs to attack the cancer cells in different ways.
Radiation therapy. This treatment uses high-energy radiation from X-rays, gamma rays, or fast-moving subatomic particles (called particle or proton beam therapy) to target and destroy cancer cells. Radiation usually isn’t needed to treat germ cell tumors because most are very sensitive to chemotherapy.
When your child needs treatment for any type of tumor, it can feel overwhelming. But you’re not alone. To find support, talk to your child’s doctor or a hospital social worker. Many resources are available to help you and your child get through this difficult time.
Different kinds of childhood cancer have different signs, symptoms, treatments, and outcomes. But today, most kids with cancer get better.
Chemotherapy (chemo) is treatment with medicines that stop the growth of cancer cells.
Proton therapy is an advanced type of radiation therapy. It’s an effective treatment for many childhood cancers.
When kids get cancer, it can often be treated and cured. Find out more in this article for kids.
Side effects of cancer treatment can include flu-like symptoms, hair loss, and blood clotting problems. After treatment ends, most side effects go away.
Shortly before birth, a boy’s testicles usually descend into the scrotum. When a testicle doesn’t make the move, this is called cryptorchidism, or undescended testicles.
Chemotherapy is a big word for treatment with medicines used to help people who have cancer. This medicine kills the cancer cells that are making the person sick.
It’s common to put your own needs last when caring for a child you love. But to be the best you can be, you need to take care of yourself, too. Here are some tips to help you recharge.
Why do girls get periods? What goes on when a woman gets pregnant? What can go wrong with the female reproductive system? Find the answers to these questions and more in this article for teens.
Understanding the male reproductive system and what it does can help you better understand your son’s reproductive health.
What makes up a guy’s reproductive system and how does it develop? Find the answers to these questions and more.
Learning about the female reproductive system, what it does, and the problems that can affect it can help you better understand your daughter’s reproductive health.
Minimally invasive surgery is a type of procedure done without the use of a large incision (cut).
It’s normal for kids to have hair loss, skin changes, or weight gain during treatment. This article offers tips for helping kids feel better about their appearance.
While some cancer treatments have little to no effect on reproductive health, others are more likely cause temporary or permanent infertility.
Long-term side effects, or late effects, happen to many cancer survivors. With early diagnosis and proper follow-up care, most late effects can be treated or cured.
Eating as well as possible and staying hydrated can help kids undergoing cancer treatment keep up their strength and deal with side effects. These tips can help.
Radiation therapy, also called radiotherapy, irradiation, or X-ray therapy, is one of the most common forms of cancer treatment.
From treatments and prevention to coping with the emotional aspects of cancer, the Cancer Center provides comprehensive information that parents need.
Visit our Cancer Center for teens to get information and advice on treating and coping with cancer.
Cancer is a serious illness that needs special treatment. Find out more about how kids can cope with cancer.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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