The germ cell tumor is an abnormal growth that is created from germ cells in the ovary. They are not a common type of ovarian cancer, accounting for only 2-5% of all cancers of the ovary. A tumor of this type may be benign or malignant, and mostly affect adolescents and young adults under 30. There are a few reported cases of this type of ovarian cancer forming outside the ovaries, but this is usually attributed to birth defects. Most cases are diagnosed at early stages, and have a relatively good prognosis.
There is some difference of opinion on how this particular type of ovarian tumor develops. Some believe that germ cells migrate in some unusual fashion during the development of an embryo.
Others tend to think that the origin has to do with the wide distribution of germ cells during the process of embryogenesis and is not triggered by any particular activity. In other words, the development is a random occurrence that may take place as the ovaries are performing their normal functions.
Several different types of the germ cell tumor have been defined over the years. The most prevalent form or type is known as dysgerminoma. This type is the most common of the germ cell cancerous growths, and is most likely to occur sometime between the ages of 20 and 40. While often malignant, dysgerminoma tends to respond very well to the use of radiation and chemotherapy, or a combination of the two.
Yolk sac tumors are also part of the germ cell cancer family. Considered the second most common type, the yolk sac tumor is more likely to occur before at any time between childhood and the age of thirty. The tumor may be solid or contain fluid. Unlike dysgerminoma, a yolk sac tumor does not respond well to radiotherapy alone, but can be successfully treated using a combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
The ovarian teratoma is a type of germ cell tumor that in its most common form usually appears during the childbearing years. This form of cancer tends to contain material such as hair and sometimes teeth that were partially developed within the ovaries. Traces of skin, cartilage and even bone may be present as well. There are three sub-types of the teratoma that may be present, with the mature cystic teratoma being the most common, followed by the monodermal teratoma and the immature teratoma.
Another example of a germ cell cancer is the embryonal carcinoma. Occurring most frequently in children or young adults, this type often appears in conjunction with the yolk sac tumor. Like the yolk sac cancer, an embryonal carcinoma does not respond well to radiation therapy, but does respond when chemotherapy and radiation therapy are used together.
Choriocarcinoma is the final type of germ cell cancer. Considered somewhat rare, choriocarcinoma is more likely to occur in pre-teen and teenage females, and is often connected with a higher serum human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) level. A highly malignant type of germ cell tumor, combination chemotherapy is often the first treatment applied.
With any form of germ cell tumor, there is a good chance that there will be little in the way of symptoms at first. As the tumor increases in size, pain in the abdomen is likely to occur, starting as a general sense of being uncomfortable and gradually increasing to consistent pain.
There is also a good chance that changes in the menstrual cycle will occur among females who have reached puberty. Some abdominal swelling is also likely as the tumor continues to grow.
Because these tumors affect a greater proportion of younger women, fertility-sparing procedures are an important consideration when treating these types of tumors. Primary treatment for these tumors will often involve surgery. Some types of germ cell tumors will require only surgery as treatment, while others carry a recommendation of 3 or 4 cycles of chemotherapy following initial surgery. Germ cell tumors are very sensitive to chemotherapy.