Germ cell tumours

Germ cell tumours develop in germ cells. These are the cells in the body that develop into sperm and eggs.

Germ cell tumours most often develop in the ovary or testicle because this is where most germ cells are.

But germ cells can sometimes be left behind in other parts of the body from when you developed in the womb. So these tumours can develop anywhere in your body where 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 ovarian cancers are this type. 

Most ovarian germ cell tumours occur in teenagers or young women, although they also occur in women in their 60s.

Ovarian teratoma is a type of ovarian germ cell tumour.

Other types

Cancers that develop from germ cells in other parts of the body are rare. The medical name for germ cell tumours that develop outside of the ovaries or testicles is extragonadal germ cell tumour (EGGCT).

Germ cell tumours can start in:

  • the brain
  • the back of the abdomen (retroperitoneal cancer)
  • a part of the chest called the mediastinum  (mediastinal germ cell tumours) 

The mediastinum is the area between the lungs, which contains the heart. 


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 with a diagnosis of a rare cancer can be especially difficult. 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 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.

You can call our nurse freephone helpline on 0808 800 4040. They are available from Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. Or you can send them a question online.

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

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