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Germ cell cancer

Germ cells are the cells in the body that develop into sperm and eggs. They are mainly found in the ovary or testicle. But they can sometimes be left behind in other parts of the body from when you developed in the womb.

Germ cell tumours can develop from these cells. They most often develop in the ovary or testicle, as that is where most germ cells are. But they can develop anywhere there are germ cells. The most common germ cell tumours are teratomas or seminomas of the testicle in men.

Women can develop ovarian germ cell tumours. Many of these are non cancerous (benign). But some are cancerous. Only about 1 or 2% of cancers of the ovary are this type. Most ovarian germ cell tumours occur in teenagers or young women, although they also occur in women in their 60's.

Cancers that develop from germ cells in other parts of the body are rare. They may grow in a part of the chest called the mediastinum. We have information about mediastinal germ cell tumours in the rare cancers section. The mediastinum is the area between the lungs, which contains the heart. Germ cell cancers may also start in the brain, or at the back of the abdomen. This is called retroperitoneal cancer (which means behind the abdomen).  

Doctors usually remove germ cell cancers with surgery and this may be all the treatment you need if the cancer is small and easy to remove. If there is a chance of the cancer coming back, you may have chemotherapy after surgery. Germ cell tumours generally respond very well to chemotherapy and most people are cured. Even cancers that have spread are still very treatable with chemotherapy.

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Updated: 19 September 2014