Germ Cell Tumors
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Houston Methodist’s germ cell brain tumor specialists combine expertise with compassionate care at our world-class treatment and research clinics.
Houston Methodist’s neurologists and neuro-oncologists offer the most advanced treatments available for germ cell tumors. Although germ cell brain tumors can be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous), they are typically malignant.
Germ cell tumors occur most often in children. Our pediatric oncologists work with a multidisciplinary team to provide state-of-the-art germ cell tumor treatment to children and young adults.
The experts at the Kenneth R. Peak Center for Brain and Pituitary Tumor Treatment and Research provide each patient —regardless of age —with a customized plan aimed at treating the tumor effectively while maintaining the highest possible quality of life.
Developing Powerful Treatments
Our researchers are developing innovative treatments to fight cancer through our genomic sequencing and proteomics labs.
- Mitochondrial smart bombs – Developed at Houston Methodist, these are the first known example of selective mitochondrial chemotherapy.
- Nanosyringes – Tiny syringes that make injections into individual cancer cells and spare normal cells. In experimental studies, they are highly effective against many types of cancer, including glioblastoma and breast cancer. We are also very close to launching clinical trials, in collaboration with Rice University.
- Drug pump inhibitors – Uses nanosyringes to trap the chemotherapy drug inside the cancer cells, which results in the cancer cells dying. This attacks one of the main ways in which a tumor becomes resistant to chemotherapy, therefore making the chemotherapy used much more effective at a much lower dose.
- Gene therapies – New and unique treatment that involves replacing a defective gene with a new, healthy copy of that code.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Germ Cell Tumors
How is a germ cell tumor diagnosed?
Germ cell tumors are diagnosed using imaging studies, spinal taps and/or blood tests. These tumors are rare in adults, representing only about 0.3-0.6% of primary adult brain tumors. The greatest number of cases is diagnosed in children between 10 and 14 years of age. They are somewhat more common in children, accounting for 3-4% of primary brain tumors.
Imaging studies – MRI with gadolinium can be used to detect a tumor at an early stage.
Spinal taps – Germ cell tumors tend to spread through the cerebrospinal fluid. Doctors sample that fluid by performing a lumbar puncture (spinal tap).
Blood tests – Your doctors may recommend blood tests to look for tumor markers in your blood or check the levels of hormones that may be altered if a tumor is pressing on a gland within your brain.
Indications of a brain tumor found by testing may include:
- Tumor markers – molecules that are present on the surface of tumor cells, but absent or present in smaller amounts on normal cells.
- Alpha-fetoprotein – a tumor marker for germ cell tumors.
- Hormones – normal substances, but tumors may be an abnormal source.
- Beta-human chorionic gonadotropin – produced in excess by some but not all germ cell tumors.
The results of these tests and exams help your doctors determine the type of germ cell tumor you have (germinomas, teratomas or nongerminomas) and ultimately develop an effective treatment plan.
What are the signs and symptoms of germ cell tumors?
Common symptoms may include:
- Difficulty walking
- Double vision
- Inability to look upward
- Memory loss
- Nausea and vomiting
- Uncontrolled eye movements
Certain symptoms can help determine the location of the tumors in the head and brain.
- Pineal region – Tumors located in the pineal region, deep within the brain, are often associated with headaches and vision problems.
- Pituitary Adenomas – Tumors located in the small, bony nook at the base of the brain may press against the pituitary gland and cause hormone-related symptoms.
What treatments are available?
Your treatment plan will be unique to your health needs and the type of your germ cell tumor. Most germ cell tumors are treated with chemotherapy. Others require a strategic combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
Treatment options include:
- Germinomas – Treated with radiation and/or chemotherapy.
- Teratomas – Treated first with surgery, followed by radiation or chemotherapy.
- Nongerminomas – Treated first with chemotherapy, followed by radiation therapy. Another option is to use very high doses of chemotherapy to destroy cancer cells. This treatment also destroys the stem cells that produce blood cells. To overcome this, the patient’s stem cells are harvested before chemotherapy and infused after the chemotherapy.
Learn More About Germ Cell Brain Tumors
Our Patient Stories
Innovations in Radiosurgery and Radiation Therapy
It uses focused beams of radiation — directed to the precise shape and location of the tumor — to shrink and eliminate the cancer while safely passing through healthy brain tissue. Patients formerly thought to be terminal with inoperable tumors can now be safely and effectively treated. Having this technique available often converts a situation with limited life expectancy to one of long-term survival.