National Cancer Institute


Expert-reviewed information summary about the treatment of childhood extracranial germ cell tumors.

This PDQ cancer information summary for health professionals provides comprehensive, peer-reviewed, evidence-based information about the treatment of childhood extracranial germ cell tumors. It is intended as a resource to inform and assist clinicians who care for cancer patients. It does not provide formal guidelines or recommendations for making health care decisions.

This summary is reviewed regularly and updated as necessary by the PDQ Pediatric Treatment Editorial Board, which is editorially independent of the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The summary reflects an independent review of the literature and does not represent a policy statement of NCI or the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Childhood Extracranial Germ Cell Tumors Treatment

General Information About Childhood Extracranial Germ Cell Tumors (GCTs)

Dramatic improvements in survival have been achieved for children and adolescents with cancer. Between 1975 and 2010, childhood cancer mortality decreased by more than 50%. During the period from 2002 to 2010, cancer mortality continued to decrease by 2.4% per year for children and adolescents with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, acute myeloid leukemia, Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, neuroblastoma, central nervous system tumors, and gonadal tumors, as compared with the period from 1975 to 1998 (plateauing from 1998 to 2001). Childhood and adolescent cancer survivors require close monitoring because late effects of cancer therapy may persist or develop months or years after treatment. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Late Effects of Treatment for Childhood Cancer for specific information about the incidence, type, and monitoring of late effects in childhood and adolescent cancer survivors.)

GCTs arise from primordial germ cells, which migrate during embryogenesis from the yolk sac through the mesentery to the gonads. Childhood extracranial GCTs can be divided into the following two types:

  • Gonadal.
  • Extragonadal.

Most childhood extragonadal GCTs arise in midline sites (i.e., sacrococcygeal, mediastinal, and retroperitoneal); the midline location may represent aberrant embryonic migration of the primordial germ cells.

Childhood extracranial GCTs are broadly classified as the following:

  • Teratomas.
    • Mature teratoma.
    • Immature teratoma.
  • Malignant GCTs.
    • Seminomatous GCT.
      • Seminoma (testis).
      • Dysgerminoma (ovary).
      • Germinoma (brain).
    • Non-seminomatous GCT.
      • Yolk sac tumor (endodermal sinus tumor).
      • Choriocarcinoma.
      • Embryonal carcinoma.
      • Gonadoblastoma.
      • Teratoma and yolk sac tumor.
  • Mixed GCT (contains at least two of the malignant histologies listed above).

(Refer to the PDQ summary on Childhood Central Nervous System Germ Cell Tumors Treatment for information about the treatment of intracranial germ cell tumors.)

Incidence

Childhood GCTs are rare in children younger than 15 years, accounting for approximately 3% of cancers in this age group. In the fetal/neonatal age group, most extracranial GCTs are benign teratomas occurring at midline locations, including the head and neck, sacrococcyx, and retroperitoneum. Despite the small percentage of malignant teratomas that occur in this age group, perinatal tumors have a high morbidity rate caused by hydrops fetalis and premature delivery.

The incidence of extracranial GCTs with the onset of puberty represents approximately 14% of cancers in adolescents aged 15 to 19 years.

The incidence of extracranial GCTs by 5-year age group and sex is shown in Table 1.

Histologic Classification of Childhood Extracranial GCTs

Childhood extracranial GCTs comprise a variety of histologic diagnoses and can be broadly classified as the following:

  • Teratomas.
    • Mature teratoma.
    • Immature teratoma.
  • Malignant GCTs.

The histologic properties of extracranial GCTs are heterogeneous and vary by primary tumor site and the sex and age of the patient. Histologically identical GCTs that arise in younger children have different biological characteristics from those that arise in adolescents and young adults.

Mature teratoma

Mature teratomas can occur at gonadal or at extragonadal locations. They are the most common histological subtype of childhood GCT. Mature teratomas usually contain well-differentiated tissues from the ectodermal, mesodermal, and endodermal germ cell layers, and any tissue type may be found within the tumor.

Mature teratomas are benign, although some mature teratomas may secrete enzymes or hormones, including insulin, growth hormone, androgens, and prolactin.

Immature teratoma

Immature teratomas contain tissues from the ectodermal, mesodermal, and endodermal germ cell layers, but immature tissues, primarily neuroepithelial, are also present. Immature teratomas are graded from 0 to 3 on the basis of the amount of immature neural tissue found in the tumor specimen. Tumors of higher grade are more likely to have foci of yolk sac tumor. Immature teratomas can exhibit malignant behavior and metastasize.

Immature teratomas occur primarily in young children at extragonadal sites and in the ovaries of girls near the age of puberty, but there is no correlation between tumor grade and patient age. Some immature teratomas may secrete enzymes or hormones such as vasopressin.

Malignant GCTs

GCTs contain frankly malignant tissues of germ cell origin and, rarely, tissues of somatic origin. Isolated malignant elements may constitute a small fraction of a predominantly mature or immature teratoma.

Malignant germ cell elements of children, adolescents, and young adults can be grouped broadly by location (refer to Table 2). Adolescent and young adult males present with more germinomas (testicular and mediastinal seminomas), and females present with more ovarian dysgerminomas.

GCT Biology

The following biologically distinct subtypes of GCTs are found in children and adolescents:

  • Testicular GCTs.
  • Ovarian GCTs.
  • Extragonadal extracranial GCTs.

Very few pediatric GCT specimens have been analyzed. Biologic distinctions between GCTs in children and GCTs in adults may not be absolute, and biologic factors have not been shown to predict risk.

Testicular GCTs

  • Children (aged <11 years): During early childhood, both testicular teratomas and malignant testicular GCTs are identified. The malignant tumors are commonly composed of pure yolk sac tumor (also known as endodermal sinus tumor), are generally diploid or tetraploid, and up to approximately 44% contain the isochromosome of the short arm of chromosome 12 (i12p) that characterizes testicular cancer in young adults. Deletions of chromosomes 1p, 4q, and 6q and gains of chromosomes 1q, 3, and 20q are reported as recurring chromosomal abnormalities for this group of tumors.
  • Adolescents and young adults (aged ≥11 years): Testicular GCTs in the adolescent and young adult population almost always possess an i12p and are aneuploid.

Ovarian GCTs

Ovarian GCTs occur primarily in adolescent and young adult females. While most ovarian GCTs are benign mature teratomas (dermoid cysts), a heterogeneous group of malignant GCTs, including immature teratomas, dysgerminomas, yolk sac tumors, and mixed GCTs, do occur in females. The malignant ovarian GCT commonly shows increased copies of the short arm of chromosome 12.

Extragonadal extracranial GCTs

Extragonadal extracranial GCTs occur outside of the brain and gonads.

  • Children (aged <11 years): These tumors typically present at birth or during early childhood. Most of these tumors are benign teratomas occurring in the sacrococcygeal region, and thus are not included in Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) data. Malignant yolk sac tumor histology occurs in a minority of these tumors; however, they may have cytogenetic abnormalities similar to those observed for tumors occurring in the testes of young males. Mediastinal GCTs in children younger than 8 years share the same genetic gains and losses as do sacrococcygeal and testicular tumors in young children.
  • Older children, adolescents, and young adults (aged ≥11 years): The mediastinum is the most common primary site for extragonadal GCTs in older children and adolescents.

There are few data about the potential genetic or environmental factors associated with childhood extragonadal extracranial GCTs. Patients with the following syndromes are at an increased risk of extragonadal extracranial GCTs:

  • Klinefelter syndrome—increased risk of mediastinal GCTs.
  • Swyer syndrome—increased risk of gonadoblastomas and seminomas.
  • Turner syndrome—increased risk of gonadoblastomas and dysgerminomas.

Clinical Features

Childhood extracranial GCTs develop at many sites, including testicles, ovaries, mediastinum, retroperitoneum, sacrum, and coccyx (refer to Figure 1). The clinical features at presentation are specific for each site.

Extracranial germ cell tumor; drawing shows parts of the body where extracranial germ cell tumors may form, including the mediastinum (the area between the lungs), retroperitoneum (the area behind the abdominal organs), sacrum, coccyx, testicles (in males), and ovaries (in females). Also shown are the heart and peritoneum.Figure 1. Extracranial germ cell tumors form in parts of the body other than the brain. This includes the testicles, ovaries, sacrococcyx (usually originating from the coccyx and including the sacrum), mediastinum, and retroperitoneum.

Diagnostic and Staging Evaluation

Diagnostic evaluation of GCTs includes imaging studies and measurement of tumor markers. In suspected cases, tumor markers can suggest the diagnosis before surgery and/or biopsy. This information can be used by the multidisciplinary team to make appropriate treatment choices.

Tumor markers

Yolk sac tumors produce alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) and beta-human chorionic gonadotropin (beta-hCG) is produced by all choriocarcinomas and by some germinomas (seminomas and dysgerminomas) and embryonal carcinomas, resulting in elevated serum levels of these substances. Most children with malignant GCTs will have a component of yolk sac tumor and have elevations of AFP levels, which are serially monitored during treatment to help assess response to therapy. Benign teratomas and immature teratomas may produce small elevations of AFP and beta-hCG.

The fetal liver produces AFP, and during the first year of life, infants have elevated serum AFP levels, which are not associated with the presence of a GCT. Normal ranges have been described. The serum half-life of AFP is 5 to 7 days, and the serum half-life of beta-hCG is 1 to 2 days. Even though the data are limited, tumor markers are measured with each cycle of chemotherapy for all pediatric patients with malignant GCTs. After initial chemotherapy, tumor markers may show a transient elevation.

Imaging tests

Imaging tests may include the following:

  • Computed tomography (CT) scan of the chest.
  • CT or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the primary site.
  • Radionuclide bone scan, if clinically indicated.
  • MRI of the brain, if clinically indicated.

Prognostic Factors

Prognostic factors for extracranial GCTs depend on many circumstances and include the following:

  • Age (e.g., young children vs. adolescents).
  • Stage of disease.
  • Primary site of disease.
  • Tumor marker decline (AFP and beta-hCG) in response to therapy.
  • Histology (e.g., seminomatous vs. nonseminomatous).

To better identify prognostic factors, data from five U.S. trials and two U.K. trials for malignant extracranial GCTs in children and adolescents were merged by the Malignant Germ Cell Tumor International Collaborative (MaGIC). The goal was to ascertain the important prognostic factors in 519 young patients, incorporating age at diagnosis, stage, and site of primary tumor, along with pretreatment AFP level and histology.[] Prognostic factors included the following:

  • Patients aged 11 years and older with stage III or stage IV extragonadal disease or ovarian stage IV disease had a less than 70% likelihood of long-term disease-free survival, ranging from 40% (extragonadal stage IV) to 67% (ovarian stage IV).
  • Boys (aged 11 years and older) with International Germ Cell Consensus Classification intermediate-risk or poor-risk features also had inferior outcomes.
  • Preoperative AFP levels were not prognostic. AFP levels, drawn postoperatively, are prognostic in adult men.
  • Yolk sac tumor predicted better outcome, but did not achieve statistical significance at the 0.05 level.

    This is the first age-focused investigation of these factors in young children and adolescents.

Although few pediatric data exist, adult studies have shown that an unsatisfactory decline of elevated tumor markers after the first cycle of chemotherapy is a poor prognostic finding.

(Refer to the Treatment of Mature and Immature Teratomas in Children, Treatment of Malignant Gonadal GCTs in Children, and Treatment of Malignant Extragonadal Extracranial GCTs in Children sections of this summary for more information about prognosis and prognostic factors for childhood extragonadal extracranial GCTs.)

Follow-up After Treatment

There is little evidence to provide guidance on the follow-up care of children with extracranial GCTs.

The following tests and procedures may be performed at the physician's discretion when tumor markers are elevated at diagnosis:

  • AFP and beta-hCG. Monitor AFP and beta-hCG levels monthly for 6 months (period of highest risk) and then every 3 months, for a total of 2 years (3 years for sacrococcygeal teratoma).
  • Imaging tests.
    • MRI/CT may be performed at the completion of therapy.
    • Guided imaging of the primary site may be performed every 3 months for the first year and every six months for the second year. Seminomas and dysgerminomas may recur later, so the imaging schedule may need to be extended.
    • Chest x-ray annually.

The following tests and procedures may be performed at the physician's discretion when tumor markers are normal at diagnosis:

  • Imaging tests. Ultrasound or CT/MRI may be performed every 3 months for 2 years and then annually for 5 years for germinomas.

Stage Information for Childhood Extracranial GCTs

As with other childhood solid tumors, stage directly impacts the outcome of patients with malignant germ cell tumors (GCTs). The most commonly used staging systems in the United States are as follows:

  • Testicular GCT Staging (Children's Oncology Group [COG]).
  • Ovarian GCT Staging (COG).
  • Ovarian GCT Staging (International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics [FIGO]).
  • Extragonadal Extracranial GCT Staging (COG).

Testicular GCT Staging From COG (Patients Aged <11 Years)

Table 3 describes the testicular GCT staging from the COG trial.

Testicular GCT Staging (Patients Aged ≥11 Years)

Refer to the PDQ summary on Testicular Cancer Treatment for more information about the American Joint Committee on Cancer staging criteria for testicular GCT in males aged 11 years and older.

Retroperitoneal lymph node dissection has not been required in pediatric germ cell trials to stage disease in males younger than 15 years. Data on adolescent males with testicular GCTs are limited. Retroperitoneal lymph node dissection is used for both staging and treatment in adult testicular GCT trials.

Ovarian GCT Staging From COG

Table 4 describes the ovarian GCT staging from the COG trial.

Ovarian GCT Staging From FIGO

Another ovarian GCT staging system used frequently by gynecologic oncologists is the FIGO staging system, which is based on adequate surgical staging at the time of diagnosis. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Ovarian Germ Cell Tumors Treatment for more information.) This system has also been used by some pediatric centers and is described in Table 5:

Extragonadal Extracranial GCT Staging From COG

Table 6 describes the extragonadal extracranial GCT staging from the COG trial.

Treatment Option Overview for Childhood Extracranial GCTs

Childhood extracranial germ cell tumors (GCTs) are very heterogenous. The benefits and limitations of therapy are related to differences in histology. For example, pediatric GCTs such as mature and immature teratomas may not respond to chemotherapy.

On the basis of clinical factors, appropriate treatment for extracranial GCTs may involve one of the following:

  • Surgical resection followed by careful monitoring for disease recurrence.
  • Initial surgical resection followed by platinum-based chemotherapy.
  • Diagnostic tumor biopsy and preoperative platinum-based chemotherapy followed by definitive tumor resection.

To maximize the likelihood of long-term survival while minimizing the likelihood of treatment-related long-term sequelae (e.g., secondary leukemias, infertility, hearing loss, and renal dysfunction), children with extracranial malignant GCTs need to be cared for at pediatric cancer centers with experience treating these rare tumors.

Surgery

Surgery is an essential component of treatment. Specific treatments will be discussed for each tumor type.

Surgery and Observation

For patients with completely resected immature teratomas of all grades and at any location, and for patients with localized, completely resected (stage I) seminomatous and nonseminomatous GCTs (testicular and ovarian), additional therapy may not be necessary; however, close monitoring is important. The watch-and-wait approach requires scheduled serial physical examination, tumor marker determination, and primary tumor imaging to ensure that a recurrent tumor is detected without delay.

Chemotherapy

Before effective chemotherapy became available, children with extracranial malignant GCTs had 3-year survival rates of 15% to 20% with surgery and radiation therapy, although young boys with localized testicular tumors did well with surgical resection alone. Cisplatin-based chemotherapy has significantly improved outcomes for most children and adolescents with extracranial GCTs; 5-year survival rates now approach 85%.

In the United States, the standard chemotherapy regimen for both adults and children with malignant nonseminomatous GCTs includes cisplatin, etoposide, and bleomycin. Adult patients receive weekly bleomycin throughout treatment (bleomycin, etoposide, and cisplatin [BEP]). U.S. pediatric trials included patients aged 15 years and younger with testicular GCTs and patients aged 21 years and younger with ovarian and extragonadal GCTs. Patients received bleomycin only on day 1 of each cycle (cisplatin, etoposide, and bleomycin [PEb]). The combination of carboplatin, etoposide, and bleomycin (JEb) underwent clinical investigation in the United Kingdom in children younger than 16 years and was reported to have an event-free survival by site and stage similar to that of PEb. Refer to Table 7 for adult BEP and pediatric PEb and JEb chemotherapy dosing schedules. In both adult and pediatric trials, the number of adolescent subjects was small; the optimal therapy for adolescents (age 11 years and older) is not clear.

The use of JEb appears to be associated with fewer otologic toxic effects and renal toxic effects than does the use of PEb. PEb and JEb have not been compared in a randomized pediatric GCT trial.

Several trials were conducted by the Children's Oncology Group (previously the Children's Cancer Group and the Pediatric Oncology Group ). These trials explored the use of PEb for the treatment of localized gonadal GCT and intensified regimens for patients with poor-risk features. The strategies included high-dose cisplatin (200 mg/m) and cyclophosphamide or the protective agent amifostine. None of these strategies had a significant effect on survival or decreased toxicity.

Radiation Therapy

Testicular and mediastinal seminomas in males and ovarian dysgerminomas in females are sensitive to radiation, but radiation therapy is rarely recommended because of the known late effects.

Overview of Treatment for Childhood Extracranial Germ Cell Tumors

Table 8 provides an overview of standard treatment options for children with extracranial GCTs. Specific details of treatment by primary site and clinical condition are described in subsequent sections.

GCT with non-GCT elements (teratoma with malignant transformation)

The treatment of GCTs with other non-GCT somatic elements is complex, and few data exist to direct treatment. In adolescents, central primitive neuroectodermal tumors and sarcomas have been found in teratomas. The Italian Pediatric Germ Cell Tumor group identified 14 patients with malignant GCTs with a somatic malignancy, such as neuroblastoma or rhabdomyosarcoma, embedded in teratomas (<2% of extracranial GCTs).

The optimal treatment strategy for GCTs with non-GCT elements has not been determined, and separate treatments for both malignant GCTs and non-GCT elements may be required.

Special Considerations for the Treatment of Children With Cancer

Cancer in children and adolescents is rare, although the overall incidence of childhood cancer has slowly increased since 1975. Children and adolescents with cancer should be referred to medical centers that have a multidisciplinary team of cancer specialists with experience treating the cancers that occur during childhood and adolescence. This multidisciplinary team approach incorporates the skills of the following health care professionals and others to ensure that children receive treatment, supportive care, and rehabilitation that will achieve optimal survival and quality of life:

  • Primary care physicians.
  • Pediatric surgeons.
  • Radiation oncologists.
  • Pediatric medical oncologists and hematologists.
  • Rehabilitation specialists.
  • Pediatric nurse specialists.
  • Social workers.
  • Child life professionals.
  • Psychologists.

Guidelines for pediatric cancer centers and their role in the treatment of pediatric patients with cancer have been outlined by the American Academy of Pediatrics. At these pediatric cancer centers, clinical trials are available for most of the cancer types that occur in children and adolescents, and the opportunity to participate in these trials is offered to most patients and families. Clinical trials for children and adolescents with cancer are generally designed to compare potentially better therapy with therapy that is currently accepted as standard. Most of the progress made in identifying curative therapies for childhood cancers has been achieved through clinical trials. Information about ongoing clinical trials is available from the NCI website.

Treatment of Mature and Immature Teratomas in Children

Mature and immature teratomas arise primarily in the sacrococcygeal region of neonates and young children and in the ovaries of pubescent girls. Less commonly, these tumors are found in the testicular region of boys younger than 4 years, the mediastinum of adolescents, and other sites.

The primary treatment for teratomas is surgery and depends on whether the tumor forms in a nonsacrococcygeal or sacrococcygeal site. Surgical options for sacrococcygeal teratomas are complex. The number of pediatric patients with postoperative residual mature or immature teratomas is very small.

Treatment of Mature Teratomas

Standard treatment options for mature teratomas (nonsacrococcygeal sites)

Standard treatment options for mature teratomas in a nonsacrococcygeal site include the following:

Children with mature teratomas, including mature teratomas of the mediastinum, can be treated with surgery and observation, with an excellent prognosis. In a review of 153 children with nontesticular mature teratoma, the 6-year relapse-free survival was 96% for completely resected disease and 55% for incompletely resected disease.

Head and neck germ cell tumors (GCTs) in neonates should be cared for by a multidisciplinary team. Although most head and neck GCTs are benign, they present significant challenges to surgeons. Some tumors develop malignant elements, which may change the treatment strategy.

Mature teratomas in the prepubertal testis are relatively common benign lesions and may be amenable to testis-sparing surgery.

Standard treatment options for mature teratomas (sacrococcygeal sites)

The sacrococcygeal region is the primary tumor site for most benign and malignant GCTs diagnosed in neonates, infants, and children younger than 4 years. These tumors occur more often in girls than in boys; ratios of 3:1 to 4:1 have been reported.

Sacrococcygeal tumors present in the following two clinical patterns related to the child’s age, tumor location, and likelihood of tumor malignancy:

  • Neonates: Neonatal tumors present at birth protruding from the sacral site and are usually mature or immature teratomas.
  • Infants and young children: In infants and young children, the tumor presents as a palpable mass in the sacro-pelvic region, compressing the bladder or rectum. These pelvic tumors are more likely to be malignant.

    The older the child at presentation, the more likely a malignant component is present in addition to the teratoma. An early survey found that the rate of tumor malignancy was 48% for girls and 67% for boys older than 2 months at the time of sacrococcygeal tumor diagnosis, compared with a malignant tumor incidence of 7% for girls and 10% for boys younger than 2 months at the time of diagnosis. The pelvic site of the primary tumor has been reported to be an adverse prognostic factor, perhaps as a result of delayed diagnosis because it was overlooked at birth or because of incomplete resection at the time of original surgery.

Standard treatment options for mature teratomas in a sacrococcygeal site include the following:

Surgery is an essential component of treatment. Complete resection of the coccyx is vital to minimize the likelihood of tumor recurrence; however, one study reported that 11 of 12 patients with microscopic residual benign immature teratomas had no recurrence.

After successful resection, neonates diagnosed with benign mature and immature teratomas are closely observed with follow-up exams and serial serum alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) determinations for several years to ensure that the expected physiological normalization of AFP levels occurs and to facilitate early detection of tumor relapse. A significant rate of recurrence among these benign tumors, ranging from 10% to 21%, has been reported by several groups, with most relapses occurring within 3 years of resection.

While there is no standard follow-up schedule, tumor markers are measured frequently for 3 years in all children. Recurrent tumors will be malignant in 43% to 50% of cases, and yolk sac tumor is the most common histology. With early detection, recurrent malignant GCTs can be treated successfully with surgery and chemotherapy (overall survival, 92%). Long-term survivors are monitored for complications of extensive surgery, which include constipation, fecal and urinary incontinence, and psychologically unacceptable cosmetic scars.

Treatment of Immature Teratomas

Treatment options for immature teratomas

Treatment options for immature teratomas include the following:

The treatment options for immature teratomas differ by stage of disease.

Stage I

Infants and young children with immature teratomas have an excellent prognosis if the tumor can be completely resected. For these patients, the current standard of treatment is surgery and observation.

Evidence (surgery and observation for stage I disease):

Stages II through IV

The effectiveness of chemotherapy for immature teratomas is described below.

Evidence (role of chemotherapy for immature teratomas):

Immature teratomas in children are primarily managed with surgery and observation; however, in adults, surgery followed by chemotherapy has been the standard treatment approach. There are no clinical trials in children supporting the use of chemotherapy.

Additional studies on the treatment of ovarian immature teratomas with chemotherapy are needed. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Ovarian Germ Cell Tumors Treatment for more information about the treatment of ovarian immature teratomas in postpubertal females.)

Treatment options under clinical evaluation for immature teratomas

Information about National Cancer Institute (NCI)–supported clinical trials can be found on the NCI website. For information about clinical trials sponsored by other organizations, refer to the ClinicalTrials.gov website.

The following is an example of a national and/or institutional clinical trial that is currently being conducted:

Current Clinical Trials

Use our advanced clinical trial search to find NCI-supported cancer clinical trials that are now enrolling patients. The search can be narrowed by location of the trial, type of treatment, name of the drug, and other criteria. General information about clinical trials is also available.

Treatment of Malignant Gonadal GCTs in Children

Childhood Malignant Testicular GCTs

Malignant testicular GCTs in prepubertal males

Testicular germ cell tumors (GCTs) in children occur almost exclusively in boys younger than 4 years. The initial surgical approach to evaluate a testicular mass in a young boy is important because a transscrotal biopsy can risk inguinal node metastasis. Radical inguinal orchiectomy with initial high ligation of the spermatic cord is the procedure of choice.

Computed tomography or magnetic resonance imaging evaluation, with the additional information provided by elevated tumor markers, appears adequate for staging. Retroperitoneal dissection of lymph nodes is not beneficial in the staging of testicular GCTs in young boys. Therefore, there is no reason to risk the potential morbidity (e.g., impotence and retrograde ejaculation) associated with lymph node dissection.

The role of surgery at diagnosis for GCTs is age- and site-dependent and must be individualized. All malignant testicular GCTs should be resected. Primary resection of other areas of disease may be appropriate when feasible, without undue risk of damage to adjacent structures; otherwise, an appropriate strategy is resection of the testis for diagnosis followed by subsequent excision in selected patients who have residual masses after undergoing chemotherapy.

Standard treatment options for malignant GCTs in prepubertal males

Standard treatment options for malignant GCTs in prepubertal males (younger than 11 years) include the following:

The treatment options for malignant GCTs in prepubertal males differ by stage of disease.

Stage I

Surgery and close follow-up observation are indicated to document that a normalization of the tumor markers occurs after resection.

Evidence (surgery and observation for stage I disease in prepubertal males):

Stages II through IV

Surgery and chemotherapy with four cycles of standard PEb is a common treatment regimen for prepubertal males with stages II through IV disease. Patients treated with this regimen have an OS outcome greater than 90%, suggesting that a reduction in therapy could be considered.

Surgery and treatment with four to six cycles of carboplatin, etoposide, and bleomycin (JEb) is an alternative treatment regimen.

Evidence (surgery and chemotherapy for stages II–IV disease in prepubertal males):

Malignant testicular GCTs in postpubertal males

The treatment options described for prepubertal males may not be strictly applicable to postpubertal males. In particular, retroperitoneal lymph node dissection may play a crucial role in the treatment of patients with residual disease after chemotherapy for the treatment of metastatic testicular GCT. A meta-analysis showed that patients older than 11 years were at higher risk of recurrence. The number of males aged 11 to 15 years with GCT is small; it is possible that these patients should be treated according to adult standards. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Testicular Cancer Treatment for more information about the treatment of malignant testicular GCTs in postpubertal males.)

Standard treatment options for malignant testicular GCTs in postpubertal males

Refer to the PDQ summary on Testicular Cancer Treatment for information about the treatment of malignant testicular GCTs in postpubertal males.

Treatment options under clinical evaluation for malignant testicular GCTs

Information about National Cancer Institute (NCI)–supported clinical trials can be found on the NCI website. For information about clinical trials sponsored by other organizations, refer to the ClinicalTrials.gov website.

The following is an example of a national and/or institutional clinical trial that is currently being conducted:

Current Clinical Trials

Use our advanced clinical trial search to find NCI-supported cancer clinical trials that are now enrolling patients. The search can be narrowed by location of the trial, type of treatment, name of the drug, and other criteria. General information about clinical trials is also available.

Childhood Malignant Ovarian GCTs

Most ovarian neoplasms in children and adolescents are of germ cell origin. Ovarian GCTs are very rare in young girls, but the incidence begins to increase in children aged approximately 8 or 9 years and continues to rise throughout adulthood.

Childhood malignant ovarian GCTs can be divided into germinomatous (dysgerminomas) and nongerminomatous malignant GCTs (i.e., yolk sac carcinomas, mixed GCTs, choriocarcinoma, and embryonal carcinomas).

(Refer to the Treatment of Mature Teratomas section of this summary for more information about childhood mature and immature teratomas arising in the ovary and the PDQ summary on Ovarian Germ Cell Tumors Treatment for more information about the treatment of ovarian GCT in postpubertal females.)

Dysgerminomas of the ovary

Standard treatment options for dysgerminomas of the ovary

Standard treatment options for dysgerminomas of the ovary include the following:

The treatment options for dysgerminomas of the ovary differ by stage of disease.

Stage I

For stage I ovarian dysgerminomas, a cure can usually be achieved by unilateral salpingo-oophorectomy, conserving the uterus and opposite ovary, and close follow-up observation.

Chemotherapy may be given if tumor markers do not normalize or if the tumor recurs.

Stages II through IV

While advanced-stage ovarian dysgerminomas, like testicular seminomas, are highly curable with surgery and radiation therapy, the effects on growth, fertility, and risk of treatment-induced second malignancy in these young patients make chemotherapy a more attractive adjunct to surgery. Complete tumor resection is the goal for advanced dysgerminomas; platinum-based chemotherapy can be given preoperatively to facilitate resection or postoperatively (after debulking surgery) to avoid mutilating surgical procedures. This approach results in a high rate of cure and the preservation of menstrual function and fertility in most patients with dysgerminomas.

Malignant nongerminomatous ovarian GCTs

A multidisciplinary approach is essential for treatment of ovarian GCTs. Various surgical subspecialists and the pediatric oncologist must be involved in clinical decisions. The surgical approach for pediatric ovarian GCTs is often guided by the expectation that reproductive function can be preserved.

Standard treatment options for malignant nongerminomatous ovarian GCTs

Standard treatment options for malignant nongerminomatous ovarian GCTs in prepubertal females include the following:

Standard treatment options for malignant nongerminomatous ovarian GCTs in postpubertal females include the following:

Standard treatment options for malignant nongerminomatous ovarian GCTs that cannot be resected initially include the following:

The treatment of ovarian malignant GCTs that are not dysgerminomas or immature teratomas generally involves surgical resection and adjuvant chemotherapy.

The role for surgery at diagnosis is age- and site-dependent and must be individualized. The use of laparoscopy in children with ovarian GCTs has not been well studied.

Pediatric surgical guidelines to determine stage I disease have been published. Adult surgical guidelines to determine stage are more extensive. (Refer to the Stage Information for Ovarian Germ Cell Tumors section of the PDQ summary on Ovarian Germ Cell Tumors Treatment for more information about staging of ovarian GCTs in postpubertal females.) Strict surgical staging guidelines need to be followed to determine true stage I disease. Historically, in both pediatric and adult studies, comprehensive staging guidelines have not been followed. If strict surgical staging guidelines are not followed, surgery followed by chemotherapy, rather than surgery followed by observation, is the standard treatment. A goal of surgical therapy for pediatric GCTs is to preserve reproductive function. If conservative surgery is the choice, a high rate of cure can be obtained with adjuvant chemotherapy, and adherence to strict surgical guidelines is not necessary.

Chemotherapy regimens with cisplatin (PEb) or carboplatin (JEb) have been used successfully in children. BEP is a common regimen in young women with ovarian GCTs. BEP differs from PEb with the addition of weekly bleomycin. This approach results in a high rate of cure and the preservation of menstrual function and fertility in most patients with nondysgerminomas. (Refer to Table 7 for more information about the dosing schedules for BEP, PEb, and JEb.)

Stage I

When strict surgical staging guidelines are followed, surgery followed by observation may be an appropriate treatment choice.

Evidence (surgery and observation for stage I disease in prepubertal and postpubertal females):

When strict surgical staging guidelines are not followed, surgery followed by chemotherapy (four cycles of PEb) is an appropriate treatment choice and results in EFS and OS rates of 95%.

Stages II through IV

Surgery and chemotherapy with four to six cycles of standard PEb in younger girls and BEP in postpubertal girls are considered standard treatments. Patients with normalization of tumor markers are imaged after four cycles of PEb, and any residual tumor is removed. Patients with residual viable tumor after surgery are considered refractory.

Alternatively, surgery and chemotherapy with four to six cycles of JEb is also a treatment option (as demonstrated in one study in which all patients were younger than 15 years).

Initially unresectable tumor

Primary resection of ovarian GCT is usually attempted. In rare instances in which primary resection of the ovary is not possible without undue risk of damage to adjacent structures, an appropriate strategy is biopsy for diagnosis followed by subsequent surgery in patients who have residual masses after undergoing chemotherapy.

Treatment options under clinical evaluation for malignant ovarian GCTs

Information about National Cancer Institute (NCI)–supported clinical trials can be found on the NCI website. For information about clinical trials sponsored by other organizations, refer to the ClinicalTrials.gov website.

The following is an example of a national and/or institutional clinical trial that is currently being conducted:

Current Clinical Trials

Use our advanced clinical trial search to find NCI-supported cancer clinical trials that are now enrolling patients. The search can be narrowed by location of the trial, type of treatment, name of the drug, and other criteria. General information about clinical trials is also available.

Treatment of Malignant Extragonadal Extracranial GCTs in Children

Extragonadal extracranial germ cell tumors (GCTs) (i.e., sacrococcygeal, mediastinal, and retroperitoneal) are more common in children than in adults. In initial reports, children with extragonadal malignant GCTs, particularly those with advanced-stage (stage III or stage IV) disease, had the highest risk of treatment failure for any GCT presentation. Subsequently, an analysis of data from 25 years of pediatric GCT studies in the United States and United Kingdom reported that children younger than 11 years with extragonadal stage III and stage IV GCTs had an event-free survival (EFS) rate of 85%, and adolescents with stage III and stage IV extragonadal disease had poorer outcomes (expected EFS, <70%).

Standard Treatment Options for Malignant Extragonadal Extracranial GCTs in Prepubertal Children

Standard treatment options for malignant extragonadal extracranial GCTs in prepubertal children include the following:

The treatment of malignant extragonadal extracranial GCTs also depends on the site of disease. (Refer to the Site-specific considerations for malignant extragonadal extracranial GCTs section of this summary for more information.)

Outcome has improved remarkably since the advent of platinum-based chemotherapy and the use of a multidisciplinary treatment approach. Complete resection before chemotherapy may be possible in some patients without major morbidity. For patients with locally advanced sacrococcygeal tumors, mediastinal tumors, or large pelvic tumors, tumor biopsy followed by preoperative chemotherapy can facilitate subsequent complete tumor resection and improve ultimate patient outcome. There is no decrease in overall survival (OS) in patients with extragonadal GCT who have had delayed resection after receiving chemotherapy.

The role of surgery at diagnosis for extragonadal tumors is age- and site-dependent and must be individualized. Depending on the clinical setting, the appropriate surgical approach may be primary resection, biopsy before chemotherapy, or no surgery (e.g., for a mediastinal primary tumor in a patient with a compromised airway and elevated tumor markers). An appropriate strategy may be biopsy at diagnosis followed by chemotherapy and subsequent surgery in selected patients who have residual masses after chemotherapy.

Stages I and II

Surgery and chemotherapy with four cycles of standard cisplatin, etoposide, and bleomycin (PEb) is one treatment option. Patients treated with this regimen have an OS of 90%, suggesting that a reduction in therapy might be considered. An alternative treatment option is surgery and chemotherapy with carboplatin, etoposide, and bleomycin (JEb).

Stages III and IV

A treatment option for stage III and stage IV disease is surgery and chemotherapy with four cycles of standard PEb. Patients have OS outcomes of higher than 80% with this regimen. Another treatment option is surgery and chemotherapy with JEb, which has an OS similar to that of the PEb regimen.

Two pediatric intergroup trials investigated the use of high-dose cisplatin (200 mg/m) in a randomized study and a subsequent study that added amifostine to high-dose cisplatin. No benefit in OS was observed, and 75% of patients required hearing aids. A Children's Oncology Group trial investigated the addition of cyclophosphamide to standard-dose PEb. The addition of cyclophosphamide was feasible and well tolerated at all dose levels, but there was no evidence that adding cyclophosphamide improved efficacy.

Site-specific considerations for malignant extragonadal extracranial GCTs

The treatment of malignant extragonadal extracranial GCTs depends in part on the site of disease.

Sacrococcygeal site

Sacrococcygeal GCTs are common extragonadal tumors that occur in very young children, predominantly young females. The tumors are usually diagnosed at birth, when large external lesions predominate (usually mature or immature teratomas), or later in the first years of life, when presacral lesions with higher malignancy rates predominate.

Malignant sacrococcygeal tumors are usually very advanced at diagnosis; two-thirds of patients have locoregional disease, and metastases are present in 50% of patients. Because of their advanced stage at presentation, the management of sacrococcygeal tumors requires a multimodal approach with platinum-based chemotherapy followed by delayed tumor resection.

Platinum-based therapies, with either cisplatin or carboplatin, are the cornerstone of treatment. The PEb regimen or the JEb regimen produces EFS rates of 85%. Surgery may be facilitated by preoperative chemotherapy. In any patient with a sacrococcygeal GCT, resection of the coccyx is mandatory.

Completeness of surgical resection is an important prognostic factor, as shown in the following circumstances:

  • Resected tumors with negative microscopic margins—EFS rates higher than 90%.
  • Resected tumors with microscopic margins—EFS rates of 75% to 85%.
  • Resected tumors with macroscopic residual disease—EFS rates lower than 40%.

Mediastinal site

Mediastinal GCTs account for 15% to 20% of malignant extragonadal extracranial GCTs in children. The histology of mediastinal GCT is dependent on age, with teratomas predominating among infants and yolk sac tumor histology predominating among children aged 1 to 4 years.

Prepubertal children with mediastinal malignant teratomas are treated with tumor resection, which is curative in almost all patients. Children with stage I to stage III nonmetastatic mediastinal GCTs who receive cisplatin-based chemotherapy have 5-year EFS and OS rates of 90%; however, stage IV mediastinal tumors have an EFS closer to 80%.; []

Retroperitoneal site

Malignant GCTs located in the retroperitoneum or abdomen usually present in children younger than 5 years; most tumors are advanced stage and locally unresectable at diagnosis. A limited biopsy followed by platinum-based chemotherapy to shrink tumor bulk can lead to complete tumor resection in most patients. Despite the advanced-stage disease in most patients, the 6-year EFS using PEb was 83% in the Pediatric Oncology Group/Children's Cancer Group intergroup study.

Head and neck site

Although rare, benign and malignant GCTs can occur in the head and neck region, especially in infants. The airway is often threatened. Surgery for nonmalignant tumors and surgery plus chemotherapy for malignant tumors can be curative.[]

Standard Treatment Options for Malignant Extragonadal Extracranial GCTs in Postpubertal Children

In a study of prognostic factors in pediatric extragonadal malignant GCTs, age older than 12 years was the most important prognostic factor. In a multivariate analysis, children aged 12 years and older with thoracic tumors had six times the risk of death compared with children younger than 12 years with primary nonthoracic tumors. In a subsequent meta-analysis, adolescents with stage III and stage IV extragonadal disease had poor outcomes (expected EFS, <70%). Extragonadal disease of any stage is considered a poor risk factor in adolescents and young adults.

Standard treatment options for malignant extragonadal extracranial GCTs in postpubertal children include the following:

Most mediastinal GCTs in adolescents and young adults occur in males, and 22% to 50% have cytogenetic changes consistent with Klinefelter syndrome. The age of presentation is younger in patients with Klinefelter syndrome, and testing all younger males for Klinefelter syndrome should be considered. As with sacrococcygeal tumors, primary chemotherapy is usually necessary to facilitate surgical resection of mediastinal GCTs, and the completeness of resection is a very important prognostic indicator. Survival rates for the older adolescent and young adult population with mediastinal tumors are generally lower than 60%.; []

Patients with a malignant mediastinal primary tumor and extracranial metastases are at the highest risk of developing brain metastases and are monitored closely for signs and symptoms of central nervous system involvement.[] (Refer to the PDQ summary on Extragonadal Germ Cell Tumors Treatment for more information about the treatment of adult patients.)

Treatment Options Under Clinical Evaluation for Malignant Extragonadal Extracranial GCTs

Information about National Cancer Institute (NCI)–supported clinical trials can be found on the NCI website. For information about clinical trials sponsored by other organizations, refer to the ClinicalTrials.gov website.

The following is an example of a national and/or institutional clinical trial that is currently being conducted:

Current Clinical Trials

Use our advanced clinical trial search to find NCI-supported cancer clinical trials that are now enrolling patients. The search can be narrowed by location of the trial, type of treatment, name of the drug, and other criteria. General information about clinical trials is also available.

Treatment of Recurrent Malignant GCTs in Children

Only a small number of children and adolescents with extracranial germ cell tumors (GCTs) have a recurrence. Reports regarding the treatment and outcome of these children are based on small studies.

Treatment options for recurrent pediatric GCTs are modeled after treatment options in adult clinical trials. Information about ongoing National Cancer Institute (NCI)–supported clinical trials is available from the NCI website.

Standard Treatment Options for Recurrent Malignant GCTs in Children

Standard treatment options for recurrent childhood malignant GCTs include the following:

Refer to the following sections for information about salvage therapy after observation for patients with stage I disease:

  • Surgery and observation section of the Treatment Option Overview for Childhood Extracranial GCTs section.
  • Stage I section of the Malignant testicular GCTs in prepubertal males section.
  • Stage I section of the Malignant nongerminomatous ovarian GCTs section.

Surgery with neoadjuvant or adjuvant chemotherapy

Reports of salvage treatment strategies used in adult recurrent GCTs include larger numbers of patients, but the differences between children and adults regarding the location of the primary GCT site, pattern of relapse, and the biology of childhood GCTs may limit the applicability of adult salvage approaches to children. In adults with recurrent GCTs, several chemotherapy combinations (most include the addition of paclitaxel and ifosfamide to a platinum compound) have achieved relatively good disease-free status. A combination of paclitaxel and gemcitabine has demonstrated activity in adults with testicular GCTs who relapsed after high-dose chemotherapy and hematopoietic stem cell transplant (HSCT).

Among children with benign sacrococcygeal tumors who recur, a malignant component may be present at the primary tumor site. For these children, complete surgical resection of the recurrent tumor and coccyx (if not done originally) is the basis of salvage treatment; preoperative chemotherapy with cisplatin, etoposide, and bleomycin (PEb) may assist the surgical resection. In patients who had a malignant sacrococcygeal tumor that recurred after PEb treatment, surgery and additional chemotherapy may be warranted.

In a Children’s Oncology Group (COG) trial (), patients who relapsed after PEb therapy received two cycles of paclitaxel, ifosfamide, and carboplatin. Study results are pending.

Nonstandard Treatment Options for Recurrent Malignant GCTs in Children

High-dose (HD) chemotherapy and hematopoietic stem cell rescue

The role of HD chemotherapy and hematopoietic stem cell rescue for recurrent pediatric GCTs is not established, despite anecdotal reports. (Refer to the Autologous Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation section of the PDQ summary on Childhood Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation for more information about transplantation.) In one European series, 10 of 23 children with relapsed extragonadal GCTs achieved long-term disease-free survival (median follow-up, 66 months) after receiving HD chemotherapy with stem cell support. Additional study in children and adolescents is needed.

HD chemotherapy with autologous stem cell rescue has been explored as a treatment for adults with recurrent testicular GCTs. HD chemotherapy plus hematopoietic stem cell rescue has been reported to cure adult patients with relapsed testicular GCTs, even as third-line therapy and in cisplatin-refractory patients. A small study also demonstrated efficacy in adolescents and women with ovarian GCTs.[] While some studies support this approach, others do not. Salvage attempts using HD chemotherapy regimens may be of little benefit if the patient is not clinically disease free at the time of HSCT.

Radiation therapy followed by surgery (for brain metastases)

In a very small pediatric study, patients with nongerminomatous brain metastases responded to radiation therapy. In the German Maligne Keimzelltümoren (MAKEI) studies, radiation therapy and surgery for patients with brain metastases provided palliation and occasional long-term survival.[] A meta-analysis showed that radiation therapy did not improve outcome compared with surgery and radiation. However, the number of patients treated with radiation therapy was too small to accurately assess outcome.

Treatment Options Under Clinical Evaluation for Recurrent Malignant GCTs in Children and Adolescents

Information about NCI-supported clinical trials can be found on the NCI website. For information about clinical trials sponsored by other organizations, refer to the ClinicalTrials.gov website.

The following are examples of national and/or institutional clinical trials that are currently being conducted:

Current Clinical Trials

Use our advanced clinical trial search to find NCI-supported cancer clinical trials that are now enrolling patients. The search can be narrowed by location of the trial, type of treatment, name of the drug, and other criteria. General information about clinical trials is also available.

Changes to This Summary (10/03/2017)

The PDQ cancer information summaries are reviewed regularly and updated as new information becomes available. This section describes the latest changes made to this summary as of the date above.

Treatment of Recurrent Malignant Germ Cell Tumors (GCTs) in Children

Added text about the APEC1621 (NCT03155620) trial as a treatment option under clinical evaluation for recurrent malignant GCTs in children and adolescents.

This summary is written and maintained by the PDQ Pediatric Treatment Editorial Board, which is editorially independent of NCI. The summary reflects an independent review of the literature and does not represent a policy statement of NCI or NIH. More information about summary policies and the role of the PDQ Editorial Boards in maintaining the PDQ summaries can be found on the About This PDQ Summary and PDQ® - NCI's Comprehensive Cancer Database pages.

About This PDQ Summary

Purpose of This Summary

This PDQ cancer information summary for health professionals provides comprehensive, peer-reviewed, evidence-based information about the treatment of childhood extracranial germ cell tumors. It is intended as a resource to inform and assist clinicians who care for cancer patients. It does not provide formal guidelines or recommendations for making health care decisions.

Reviewers and Updates

This summary is reviewed regularly and updated as necessary by the PDQ Pediatric Treatment Editorial Board, which is editorially independent of the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The summary reflects an independent review of the literature and does not represent a policy statement of NCI or the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Board members review recently published articles each month to determine whether an article should:

  • be discussed at a meeting,
  • be cited with text, or
  • replace or update an existing article that is already cited.

Changes to the summaries are made through a consensus process in which Board members evaluate the strength of the evidence in the published articles and determine how the article should be included in the summary.

The lead reviewers for Childhood Extracranial Germ Cell Tumors Treatment are:

  • Thomas A. Olson, MD (AFLAC Cancer Center and Blood Disorders Service of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta - Egleston Campus)
  • R Beverly Raney, MD (Consultant)
  • Stephen J. Shochat, MD (St. Jude Children's Research Hospital)

Any comments or questions about the summary content should be submitted to Cancer.gov through the NCI website's Email Us. Do not contact the individual Board Members with questions or comments about the summaries. Board members will not respond to individual inquiries.

Levels of Evidence

Some of the reference citations in this summary are accompanied by a level-of-evidence designation. These designations are intended to help readers assess the strength of the evidence supporting the use of specific interventions or approaches. The PDQ Pediatric Treatment Editorial Board uses a formal evidence ranking system in developing its level-of-evidence designations.

Permission to Use This Summary

PDQ is a registered trademark. Although the content of PDQ documents can be used freely as text, it cannot be identified as an NCI PDQ cancer information summary unless it is presented in its entirety and is regularly updated. However, an author would be permitted to write a sentence such as “NCI’s PDQ cancer information summary about breast cancer prevention states the risks succinctly: [include excerpt from the summary].”

The preferred citation for this PDQ summary is:

PDQ® Pediatric Treatment Editorial Board. PDQ Childhood Extracranial Germ Cell Tumors Treatment. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Updated . Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/extracranial-germ-cell/hp/germ-cell-treatment-pdq. Accessed . [PMID: 26389316]

Images in this summary are used with permission of the author(s), artist, and/or publisher for use within the PDQ summaries only. Permission to use images outside the context of PDQ information must be obtained from the owner(s) and cannot be granted by the National Cancer Institute. Information about using the illustrations in this summary, along with many other cancer-related images, is available in Visuals Online, a collection of over 2,000 scientific images.

Disclaimer

Based on the strength of the available evidence, treatment options may be described as either “standard” or “under clinical evaluation.” These classifications should not be used as a basis for insurance reimbursement determinations. More information on insurance coverage is available on Cancer.gov on the Managing Cancer Care page.

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More information about contacting us or receiving help with the Cancer.gov website can be found on our Contact Us for Help page. Questions can also be submitted to Cancer.gov through the website’s Email Us.


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