Germ Cell Tumors (Brain)

Also called: Embryonal carcinoma, yolk sac tumor, germinoma, intracranial germ cell tumor, teratoma, mixed germ cell tumors

What is a germ cell brain tumor?

Germ cell brain tumors are tumors, usually cancerous, that arise in the pineal or suprasellar region of the brain.

Different types of these germ cells cause different types of tumors, including the following:

  • Germinoma
  • Embryonal carcinoma
  • Yolk sac tumor
  • Teratoma
  • Mixed germ cell tumors

These tumors start and grow mainly in two areas in the center of the brain:

  • The pineal region (where the pineal gland is located)
  • The suprasellar region (where the pituitary gland is located)

However, a germ cell brain tumor can spread to other parts of the brain and spine including into the cerebrospinal fluid.

How common is a germ cell brain tumor?

  • Germ cell brain tumors are very rare, accounting for less than 5 percent of all brain tumors in children.
  • They are more common in boys than in girls.
  • About half of germ cell brain tumors occur in children and young adults between the ages 11 and 30.

What are the symptoms of a germ cell brain tumor?

If your child has a germ cell brain tumor, the symptoms that occur depend on its location.

Tumors in the pineal region of the brain can cause these symptoms:

  • Increased fluid in the brain (hydrocephalus)
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling irritable
  • Double vision
  • Trouble looking up or focusing on close objects
  • Coordination and balance issues

Tumors in the suprasellar region of the brain can cause these symptoms:

  • Early or delayed puberty (and other hormone related issues)
  • Stunted growth
  • Vision problems

How is a germ cell brain tumor treated?

Most germ cell tumors are treated with chemotherapy or a combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

  • Chemotherapy (“chemo”) — uses powerful medicines to kill cancer cells or stop them from growing:
    • Chemo may be injected into the bloodstream, so that it can travel throughout the body.
    • Some chemo may be given by mouth.
    • Combination therapy uses more than one type of chemo at a time.
  • Radiation therapy — uses high-energy X-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or stop them from growing (dividing) and making more cancer cells:
    • External radiation uses machines outside the body to deliver the X-ray dose.

What are the survival rates for germ cell brain tumors?

  • Children treated for germinomas have a 90% survival rate.
  • For other types of germ cell brain tumors, radiation therapy can help to control the disease in 40% to 60% of children. If chemotherapy is added, the 10-year overall survival rate is between 70% and 80%.

Why choose St. Jude for your child’s germ cell brain tumor treatment?

  • St. Jude has one of the largest pediatric brain tumor programs in the country.
  • The St. Jude staff is dedicated to treating children who have serious illnesses. Here, you will find a hospital and staff that has only one focus—your child.
  • St. Jude is committed to not only finding cures, but also helping children hold on to their quality of life. Children are not just small people. Their bodies and systems are unique, along with the disorders that affect them. For the best care, they need a specialized team. That is what you get from the St. Jude Brain Tumor Program.
  • By working closely with the pediatric neurosurgeons at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital in Memphis, the St. Jude Brain Tumor Program offers an expert team of doctors from many medical fields. The team includes: neuro-oncologists, who study and treat cancer in the brain and nervous system; neurosurgeons, who operate on the brain, skull and spinal cord; and radiation oncologists, who treat cancer with radiation. All of these doctors have devoted their careers to finding cures and providing treatment for children with brain tumors. This diverse knowledge is vital to the complete care of children with brain tumors.
  • Our brain tumor doctors also work closely with nursing, rehabilitation services, neuropathology, pharmacy, neuroradiology, neuropsychology, the school program, neurology, endocrinology, clinical nutrition, child life and social work, along with many others. Support staff members have been specially trained to care for children with brain tumors. We believe that providing holistic support for children and their families will ensure better quality of life.
  • The nurse-to-patient ratio at St. Jude is unmatched— averaging 1:3 in hematology and oncology and 1:1 in the Intensive Care Unit.
  • The St. Jude Brain Tumor Program has made great advances in treatments for brain tumor patients. Some of the world’s best neuroscientists, cancer biologists and doctors from the St. Jude Neurobiology and Brain Tumor Divisions combine their efforts to seek cures. In this interactive program, discoveries about the biology of both normal and harmful cell growth are rapidly tested in clinic studies. These studies include Phase I, II and III trials of the most common and deadly forms of childhood brain tumors.
  • Being able to take many of our drugs directly from the lab to your child is one of the major advantages of centers like St. Jude. Before treating a patient with any new drug, the St. Jude staff does many tests in the lab. The tests show if the drug is safe, if it works, and the best way to use it to help patients.
  • Along with the treatment studies constantly being developing at St. Jude, the staff also treats patients on studies developed by the Children’s Oncology Group, the Pediatric Brain Tumor Consortium and the Pacific Pediatric Neuro-Oncology Consortium. Many St. Jude staff members play key roles in developing these studies, which are large tests carried out at centers across the United States.
  • St. Jude practices patient family-centered care. Patient family-centered care is health care that focuses on the family as a child’s primary source of strength, support and well-being. At the heart of patient family-centered care is the belief that health care staff and the family are partners, working together to best meet the needs of the child. Excellence in health care happens when we work together and honor the expertise each of us brings to every health care encounter.
  • St. Jude is the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center devoted solely to children.

Contact the Brain Tumor Team any time, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Call our Brain Tumor Coordinator, Tabatha E. Doyle, RN:
(901) 595-2544 or
(901) 595-4599

Or email us at

Associated Clinical Trials

CNS1123: Chemotherapy Followed by Radiation Therapy in Treating Younger Patients With Newly Diagnosed Localized Central Nervous System Germ Cell Tumors

Phase II Trial of Response-Based Radiation Therapy for Patients with Localized Central Nervous System Germ Cell Tumors (CNS GCT)

Diseases Treated:

Newly diagnosed localize primary NGGCT or newly diagnosed localized germinoma


  • Participant is > 3 years and < 21 years at the time of enrollment.
  • Participant has newly diagnosed localized primary NGGCT or newly diagnosed localized germinoma (has not spread to other parts of the brain or spine).
  • Participant must have adequate bone marrow function.
  • Participant must have normal renal and liver function for age.
  • NO prior therapy except surgery and/or steroids.
View Trial

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