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Germ cell tumours

Germ cells are the cells in the body that develop into sperm and eggs. Read about the different types of germ cell cancer and how they are treated.

What is it

Germ cells 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 most often develop in the ovary or testicle because this is where most germ cells are. But they can develop anywhere there are germ cells.

Types of germ cell tumour

Testicular germ cell tumours

The most common germ cell tumours are teratomas or seminomas of the testicle in men.

Ovarian germ cell tumours

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 60s.

A type of ovarian germ cell tumour is called an ovarian teratoma.

Other types

Cancers that develop from germ cells in other parts of the body are rare. For example, germ cell tumours can start in the brain, or at the back of the abdomen (retroperitoneal cancer). The medical name for germ cell tumours that develop outside of the ovaries or testicles is extragonadal germ cell tumour (EGGCT).

Tumours can also grow in a part of the chest called the mediastinum. They are called mediastinal germ cell tumours. The mediastinum is the area between the lungs, which contains the heart. 

Treatment

You usually have surgery to remove germ cell cancers. This might be all the treatment you need if the cancer is small and easy to remove. 

You might have chemotherapy after surgery if there is a chance of the cancer coming back. 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.

Coping

Coping with a diagnosis of a rare cancer can be especially difficult, both practically and emotionally. Being well informed about your cancer and its treatment can make it easier to make decisions and cope with what happens.

Talking to other people

Talking to other people who have the same thing can also help.

Our discussion forum Cancer Chat is a place for anyone affected by cancer. You can share experiences, stories and information with other people who know what you are going through.

The Rare Cancer Alliance offer support and information to people affected by rare cancers.

Last reviewed: 
19 Sep 2014
  • Cancer Principles and practice of oncology (8th edition)
    VT. De Vita, TS. Lawrence, and SA. Rosenberg
    Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2008

  • Cancer and its management (6th edition)
    J Tobias and R Hochhauser
    Wiley Blackwell, 2010

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