Cancers and Tumors

Germ Cell Tumor Symptoms and Diagnosis

Symptoms of germ cell tumors can vary based on where the tumor is. For example, if a germ cell tumor forms in the brain, your child may have symptoms of a brain tumor, such as trouble with movement or balance or changes in senses or personality. But a germ cell tumor in a different part of the body would cause different symptoms.

Here are some typical symptoms of germ cell tumors, depending on the tumor location. Some of the same symptoms can also be caused by other problems that are not tumors and are not cancer, so it’s important for a child with symptoms like these to see a doctor to find out the cause.

  • Coughing or trouble breathing or getting enough air, for a tumor near the breastbone
  • Mass in the belly, unusual increase in waist size, pain in the belly or constipation, for a tumor in the abdomen (belly) or in a girl’s ovaries
  • In boys only, a painless mass or swelling in the sac that holds the testicles (scrotum)
  • Mass near the anus, constipation or not being able to urinate, for a tumor in the bones at the base of the spine (the sacrum and the coccyx, or tailbone)
  • Back pain

Germ Cell Tumor Diagnosis

To find out whether your child has a germ cell tumor, your child’s doctor will start with a thorough exam and ask about your child’s health background.

Next the doctor will do a series of tests to look for signs of disease. Common tests used to check for germ cell tumors include:

  • Blood tests, used to check the levels of white and red blood cells, to look for tumor markers (substances made by the tumor that go into the bloodstream) and to check for other chemicals in the blood.
  • Biopsy, used to take out a sample of tissue, check it for cancer and look at the type of cells.
  • Imaging studies, used to take pictures of the inside of your child’s body to look for tumors or places where cancer is active. The doctor may want your child to have imaging studies such as an X-ray, ultrasound, CT (computed tomography) scan or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging).

Sometimes doctors suspect a baby may have a germ cell tumor based on a routine ultrasound before the baby is born. If this happens with your baby, the team at Seattle Children’s Prenatal Diagnosis and Treatment Program can work with you to get ready for the birth and plan for the treatment your baby will need.

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