Testing & Diagnosis for Germ Cell Tumors of the Brain in Children

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The first step in treating your child is forming an accurate and complete diagnosis. This typically begins with:

  • a complete medical history
  • a physical examination

How are germ cell tumors in the brain diagnosed?

Diagnostic procedures for germ cell tumors, like other brain tumors, determine the exact type of tumor and whether the tumor has spread.

These may include:

  • A  physical exam to test neurological function including: reflexes, muscle strength, eye and mouth movement, coordination, and alertness.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) This is an imaging procedure that uses a combination of large magnets, radiofrequencies and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body.  There are no radiation or x-rays used in MRI scans
  • Computerized tomography scan (also called a CT or CAT scan) is a diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of x-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional images (often called slices), both horizontally and vertically, of the body. CT scans are more detailed than general x-rays.

After your child’s doctors suspect a tumor, they’ll begin the process of figuring out what kind of tumor it is. These may include:

  • Blood tests to check for “tumor markers”. Certain germ cell tumors release measurable substances into the blood such as alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) and beta-human chorionic gonadotropin (B-HCG). These tumor markers can be repeatedly tested in order to track the how well the tumor is responding to treatment.
  • Lumbar puncture (spinal tap) to remove a small sample of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and determine if any tumor cells have started to spread and analysis for tumor markers. In young children, this procedure can safely be performed under sedation.

In order to determine the best treatment for your child’s tumor, the doctors may need even more information about it. In that case, they may do a biopsy to get a tiny sample of tumor tissue to study under the microscope.

  • A biopsy is a tissue sample from the tumor that provides definitive information about the type of tumor. This is collected during surgery.
We are grateful to have been ranked #1 on U.S. News & World Report's list of the best children's hospitals in the nation for the third year in a row, an honor we could not have achieved without the patients and families who inspire us to do our very best for them. Thanks to you, Boston Children's is a place where we can write the greatest children's stories ever told.”
- Sandra L. Fenwick, President and CEO

Boston Children's Hospital 300 Longwood Avenue, Boston, MA 02115 617-355-6000 | 800-355-7944

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