Germ Cell Tumors

What are germ cell tumors?

Germ cell tumors are masses of tissue formed by immature cells that normally would have developed into mature eggs (in a female) or sperm (in a male). Ninety percent of germ cell tumors are gonadal, which means they begin in the reproductive cells of the testes (testicular tumors) or ovaries (ovarian tumors). Germ cell tumors that appear in other parts of the body — including the abdomen, chest, neck, head and brain (the areas where the cells migrate within a developing embryo) — are called extragonadal germ cell tumors.

Although these tumors are rare in children under age 15, they are the most common solid tumors in adolescents, accounting for 14 percent of all cancers among those 15-19 years old. Germ cell tumors of the brain are a type of extragonadal germ cell tumor but are treated differently than germ cell tumors in other parts of the body. This page is focused on extracranial (outside of the brain) germ cell tumors.

How we care for germ cell tumors 

Children with germ cell tumors are treated at Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center through our Solid Tumor Center. Our specialists have extensive expertise in treating even the rarest of pediatric tumors, including germ cell tumors. Our solid tumor treatment team includes medical oncologists, surgical oncologists, radiation oncologists, and pediatric subspecialists who have unique expertise in treating germ cell tumors.

Our areas of research for germ cell tumors

Various research studies are underway to help build our understanding of how treatment types and dosages can be modified according to the tumor sub-type, stage, location on the body and the age and gender of the child to provide the best possible outcome. Due to the rarity of germ cell tumors in children, however, statistically meaningful data with multivariate analysis is difficult to achieve. To address that, the Malignant Germ Cell International Collaborative (MaGIC) was formed. This consortium, led by A. Lindsay Frazier, MD, a pediatric oncologist at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s, is a collaboration of the world’s experts in germ cell tumors, including pediatric, gynecologic and genito-urinary oncologists.

For many children with rare or hard-to-treat conditions, such as germ cell tumors, clinical trials — research studies evaluating new treatment approaches — provide new options. Participation in any clinical trial is completely voluntary. We will take care to fully explain all elements of the treatment plan prior to the start of the trial, and you may remove your child from the medical study at any time.