Germ cell tumour

Germ cell tumours are fast growing, 'malignant' tumours.They grow from cells that are involved in our growth when we are developing in the womb. Germ cells form part of the embryo and develop into the reproductive system.

Most germ cell tumours occur outside the brain, but those that do grow in the brain are most often in the area close to the pituitary gland and the pineal gland at the base of the brain. These are called 'intracranial germ cell tumours'. They are also called embryonal tumours.

Germ cell tumours often block the flow of cerebro-spinal fluid (CSF) around the brain and spinal cord. This causes headaches and sickness and, as a result, these tumours are often picked up early when they are still small.

They also sometimes produce chemicals that can be picked up in blood tests (biomarkers) and this can also help to diagnose these tumours quickly.

There are two main types of intracranial germ cell tumour: non-secreting germinomas and secreting germ cell tumours. They can spread via the cerebro-spinal fluid around the brain and to the spine.

Due to their location, they are usually treated with chemotherapy or a combination of radiation and chemotherapy, rather than surgery.

A biopsy to give an exact diagnosis may be undertaken, or surgery used to treat hydrocephalus (excess water in the brain) caused by the tumour blocking the flow of cerebrospinal fluid. Occasionally surgery can be used to remove some of the tumour.

They represent around 1 - 2% of all brain tumours. About half of these occur in children and young adults (10 - 20 years old).

If you have further questions, need to clarify any of the information on this page, or want to find out more about research and clinical trials, please contact our team:

Support & Info Line

0808 800 0004 (free from landlines and mobiles)

Research & Clinical Trials Info Line

01252 749 999

Phone lines open Mon-Fri, 09:00-17:00

You can also join our active online community on Facebook - find out more about our groups.

Did you find this information useful?

Please rate the information on this page:

How can we make this page better?