The most common treatments for childhood germ cell tumors are surgery and, if the tumor is cancer, chemotherapy. Doctors rarely use radiation except for germ cell tumors in the brain. Seattle Children’s offers all of these germ cell tumor treatments.
Your child’s doctor and healthcare team will suggest a treatment plan for your child based on your child’s age, the location of the tumor, features of the tumor cells and other factors about your child’s health.
Germ cell tumors tend not to form the same way in older children (and adults) as they do in young children, and doctors may not use the same treatments for different age groups.
Germ Cell Tumor Treatment Options
Often, surgery is the first treatment for germ cell tumors in children. The first surgery may be a biopsy to remove a small sample of tumor cells to check for cancer and find out more about the tumor cells.
If they can, doctors may try to remove most of the tumor when they do the biopsy.
Doctors may need to do surgery after the biopsy to remove the rest of the tumor. Often, doctors can remove all or nearly all of a germ cell tumor. Doctors may also remove nearby tissue if they suspect tumor cells have spread there.
For benign germ cell tumors, surgery to remove the tumor is usually the only treatment.
For malignant germ cell tumors, some children need only surgery. Others may have chemotherapy, too.
Chemotherapy means giving medicines that go throughout your child’s body to kill cancer cells. Children get these medicines through a vein. Then the medicine spreads around the body through the bloodstream.
If your child has a malignant germ cell tumor, the doctors may suggest chemotherapy.
Doctors sometimes use chemotherapy before surgery to help shrink the tumor or after surgery to help kill cancer cells that may be elsewhere in your child’s body. Some children have only chemotherapy, not surgery.
Our patients receive chemotherapy at our hospital’s main campus in Seattle — most often during a stay in the hospital (as inpatients), but sometimes in a clinic (as outpatients).
Radiation is an option for some germ cell tumors. Doctors rarely use radiation for germ cell tumors except when they form in the brain. Read more about brain tumors.
New Treatments for Germ Cell Tumors
Treatment of germ cell tumors has been very successful. Now researchers are trying to find out if less intense treatment will work just as well as more intense treatment.
Seattle Children’s takes part in childhood germ cell research, both as a member of the Children’s Oncology Group (COG) and in other ways.
COG is an international organization of childhood cancer specialists who conduct studies on many forms of childhood cancer. They aim to better understand how the disease works, develop new treatment programs and reduce later effects of the disease and treatments.
Also, Seattle Children’s is a member of a group within COG to create new medicines. As part of a clinical trial, we may be able to give new medicines to patients whose cancer does not respond to treatment or comes back after treatment.
Your child’s doctor will talk with you in detail about any new treatment that might be a match for your child. Then you can decide whether you want to try that option.
Read more about cancer research at Seattle Children’s and about follow-up after cancer treatment ends.
If you have questions about germ cell tumor treatment, call: