Extragonadal germ cell tumors form from developing sperm or egg cells that travel from the gonads to other parts of the body.
"Extragonadal" means outside of the gonads (sex organs). When cells that are meant to form sperm in the testicles or eggs in the ovaries travel to other parts of the body, they may grow into extragonadal germ cell tumors. These tumors may begin to grow anywhere in the body but usually begin in organs such as the pineal gland in the brain, in the mediastinum, or in the abdomen.
Extragonadal germ cell tumors can be benign (noncancer) or malignant (cancer). Benign extragonadal germ cell tumors are called benign teratomas. These are more common than malignant extragonadal germ cell tumors and often are very large.
Malignant extragonadal germ cell tumors are divided into two types, nonseminoma and seminoma. Nonseminomas tend to grow and spread more quickly than seminomas. They usually are large and cause symptoms.
If untreated, malignant extragonadal germ cell tumors may spread to the lungs, lymph nodes, bones, liver, or other parts of the body.
For information about germ cell tumors in the ovaries and testicles, see the following PDQ summaries:
- Ovarian Germ Cell Tumors Treatment
- Testicular Cancer Treatment
Age and gender can affect the risk of extragonadal germ cell tumors.
Anything that increases your chance of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn’t mean that you will not get cancer. Talk with your doctor if you think you may be at risk. Risk factors for malignant extragonadal germ cell tumors include the following:
Possible signs of extragonadal germ cell tumors include chest pain and breathing problems.
Malignant extragonadal germ cell tumors may cause symptoms as they grow into nearby areas. Other conditions may cause the same symptoms. Check with your doctor if you have any of the following problems:
- Chest pain.
- Breathing problems.
- Change in bowel habits.
- Feeling very tired.
- Trouble walking.
- Trouble in seeing or moving the eyes.
Imaging and blood tests are used to detect (find) and diagnose extragonadal germ cell tumors.
The following tests and procedures may be used:
- Physical exam and history: An exam of the body to check general signs of health, including checking for signs of disease, such as lumps or anything else that seems unusual. The testicles may be checked for lumps, swelling, or pain. A history of the patient's health habits and past illnesses and treatments will also be taken.
- Chest x-ray: An x-ray of the organs and bones inside the chest. An x-ray is a type of energy beam that can go through the body and onto film, making a picture of areas inside the body.
- Serum tumor marker test: A procedure in which a sample of blood is examined to measure the amounts of certain substances released into the blood by organs, tissues, or tumor cells in the body. Certain substances are linked to specific types of cancer when found in increased levels in the blood. These are called tumor markers. The following three tumor markers are used to detect extragonadal germ cell tumor: Blood levels of the tumor markers help determine if the tumor is a seminoma or nonseminoma.
- CT scan (CAT scan): A procedure that makes a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body, taken from different angles. The pictures are made by a computer linked to an x-ray machine. A dye may be injected into a vein or swallowed to help the organs or tissues show up more clearly. This procedure is also called computed tomography, computerized tomography, or computerized axial tomography.Sometimes a CT scan and a PET scan are done at the same time. A PET scan is a procedure to find malignant tumor cells in the body. A small amount of radioactive glucose (sugar) is injected into a vein. The PET scanner rotates around the body and makes a picture of where glucose is being used in the body. Malignant tumor cells show up brighter in the picture because they are more active and take up more glucose than normal cells do.
When a PET scan and CT scan are done at the same time, it is called a PET-CT.
Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options.
The prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options depend on the following:
- Whether the tumor is nonseminoma or seminoma.
- The size of the tumor and where it is in the body.
- The blood levels of AFP, β-hCG, and LDH.
- Whether the tumor has spread to other parts of the body.
- The way the tumor responds to initial treatment.
- Whether the tumor has just been diagnosed or has recurred (come back).