Germinoma Symptoms & Causes

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In-Depth

At Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center, we understand that a diagnosis of a brain tumor such as a germinoma comes with many questions and concerns for parents and families.  We’ve provided straightforward information about germinoma here, and when you meet with the team of doctors at Dana-Farber/Boston Children's, they’ll be able to explain your child’s condition and options fully.

What are the different types of germinomas?

There are two main types of germinomas: pure germ cell tumors and mixed germ cell tumors.

Pure germ cell tumors

  • Pure germ cell tumors are undifferentiated tumors.
  • Although these tumors can be aggressive, they typically respond well to chemotherapy and radiation.
  • Pure germ cell tumors have a 90 percent cure rate.

Mixed cell tumors

  • Mixed germ cell tumors (also known as nongerminomatous germ cell tumors) are more difficult to treat than pure germ cell tumors and require more aggressive therapy.
  • Mixed non-germinomas contain cancerous, or malignant, forms of these tumors, including: 
    • embryonal carcinoma
    • choriocarcinoma
    • endodermal sinus [yolk sac] tumors
  • Teratomas
    • In mixed germ cell tumors, there can be a teratoma component and a malignant component.
    • Benign teratomas can grow aggressively, although they do not spread.
    • In Malignant teratomas (such as one with an embryonal carcinoma), the malignant component can grow aggressively and spread to other parts of the body.
    • In malignant teratomas chemotherapy and radiation treat the malignant component, but the teratoma component sometimes does not respond well to chemotherapy and additional surgery is sometimes necessary to remove the remaining tumor. 
    • Mixed germ cell tumors have a 70 – 75 percent cure rate

Causes

What causes germinomas? 

Typically, germ cells migrate down towards the testes or ovaries during fetal development. Germinomas, however, are thought to occur when these germ cells don’t move to the right area and instead become “trapped” in the brain. This is why germinomas originate from sex cells, despite being located in the brain.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of germinomas?

If your child has a germinoma, his symptoms will depend on where it’s located within his brain and the rate at which the tumor is growing.

One of the most common issues that occur when it comes to this type of tumor is hydrocephalus, or the blockage that occurs when spinal fluid builds up in and around the brain. This blockage creates pressure in the head. In turn, a child with hydrocephalus may experience:

  • headache
  • blurred or doubled vision
  • vomiting
  • chronic fatigue
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