Germ cell tumor pathophysiology

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]

Overview

Pathophysiology

Some investigators suggest that this distribution arises as a consequence of abnormal migration of germ cells during embryogenesis. Others hypothesize a widespread distribution of germ cells to multiple sites during normal embryogenesis, with these cells conveying genetic information or providing regulatory functions at somatic sites.

Extragonadal germ cell tumors were thought initially to be isolated metastases from an undetected primary tumor in a gonad, but it is now known that many germ cell tumors are congenital and originate outside the gonads. The most notable of these is sacrococcygeal teratoma, the single most common tumor diagnosed in babies at birth.

Despite their name, germ cell tumors occur both within and outside the ovary and testis.

In females, germ cell tumors account for 30% of ovarian tumors, but only 1 to 3% of ovarian cancers in North America. In younger women germ cell tumors are more common, thus in patients under the age of 21, 60% of ovarian tumors are of the germ cell type, and up to one-third are malignant. In males, germ cell tumors of the testis occur typically after puberty and are malignant (testicular cancer). In neonates, infants, and children younger than 4 years, the majority of germ cell tumors are sacrococcygeal teratomas.

Persons with Klinefelter's syndrome have a 50 times greater risk of germ cell tumors (GSTs)[1]. In these persons, GSTs usually contain nonseminomatous elements, present at an earlier age, and seldom are gonadal in origin.

References

  1. Mediastinal germ cell tumor in a child with precocious puberty and Klinefelter syndrome. Gregory G. Bebb, Frederic W. Grannis, Jr, Isaac B. Paz, Marilyn L. Slovak, Robert Chilcote. Ann Thorac Surg 1998;66:547-548. Abstract

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