The cells which give rise to eggs in women and sperm in men during the foetal stage are called Germ cells. Generally, their development begins in the place where the stomach and other internal organs lie within the foetus (called the midline) and their final resting place is within the reproductive organs.
Like every other tumour that is found on the body, Germ cell tumours can be both cancerous and non cancerous. There are various types of germ cell tumours, depending upon their location in the body or the type of germ cell present in the tumour.
What are its causes?
Despite the advancement in science, the reason behind the growth of germ cell tumours is not known.
However, it has been ascertained that particular medical conditions (genetic defects affecting the genitals, spine, central nervous system as well as a missing or extra chromosome) within a child makes them at higher risk of developing germ cell tumour. Also, young boys whose testes remain inside their pelvis are at a greater risk of developing this tumour.
Unfortunately, children rarely show any symptoms for germ cell tumour, irrespective of the fact whether it’s benign or malignant. However, with the passage of time, one may notice the growth of a mass on the stomach or nearby areas. If the mass happens to be in the pelvis, its symptoms might include trouble holding urine or even constipation. If it’s at the base of the spine, symptoms may include weakness in the legs.
Apart from thorough physical exams, a doctor makes the child go through the following tests:
- Blood tests: Along with kidney and liver function panels and a blood count, they help estimate how properly the liver and other organs are functioning. If the tumour occurs due to genetic reasons, the child has to undergo genetic tests too.
- Imaging studies: CT scan, ultrasound, X-ray, and a bone scan help in understanding the location as well as the size of the tumour, along with the fact whether or not the tumour has spread to other parts of the body.
- Biopsy: This entails removing a small piece of tissue from the body to exam it under laboratory conditions, which in turn helps doctors make the correct diagnosis and thus choose the best treatment for the tumour.
Those children who suffer from non-cancerous germ cell growths have to undergo surgery as it is the only way to remove that growth. Those with non-cancerous germ cell tumours first go through a process called Staging, and then receive treatment after that. Staging is a process which helps doctors to understand why the cancer is spreading by taking into account its location, its spread and its size. After Staging, the following are an option for the child – surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy