Primary Germ Cell Brain Tumor | Neurology & Neurosurgery | Loyola Medicine

COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Update

Loyola Medicine is resuming select health care services. Learn more about resumption of services.

Primary Germ Cell Tumors of the Brain

Overview and Facts about Primary Germ Cell Tumors of the Brain

Primary germ cell tumors of the brain are a rare type of abnormal growth that occurs in the pineal or suprasellar regions of the brain. The pineal region is made of the pineal gland, which secretes a hormone called melatonin that regulates how well you sleep. The suprasellar region contains the pituitary gland, which secretes hormones that control how other glands in the body function.

There are different types of germ cell brain tumors, but the two main types are:

  • Germinomas, which are generally easy to treat
  • Non-germinomatous germ cell tumors, which produce chemicals that leak into the blood and spinal fluid and are harder to treat

Primary germ cell tumors of the brain usually happen in young people, and they can be both cancerous and noncancerous.

Signs and Symptoms of Primary Germ Cell Tumors of the Brain

Symptoms of a primary germ cell tumor of the brain vary depending on where the tumor is located. Common symptoms of tumors in the pineal region include:

  • Double vision
  • Feeling tired for no reason
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Problems focusing on close objects
  • Recurring headaches
  • Trouble with balance and coordination

Common symptoms of tumors in the suprasellar region include:

  • Changes in vision
  • Problems with puberty
  • Stunted growth

Causes and Risk Factors of Primary Germ Cell Tumors of the Brain

Usually, germ cells travel to the genitals while a fetus is developing and become either eggs or sperm. However, sometimes they can get trapped in the brain, where they begin to grow out of control and cause a germ cell tumor.

Being male is a risk factor for developing this type of tumor. Also, being young is a major risk factor, as almost half of these tumors occur in people between the ages of 11 to 30.

Tests and Diagnosis of Primary Germ Cell Tumors of the Brain

To check and see if you have a primary germ cell tumor of the brain, you’ll need to visit a neurologist. The neurologist will conduct a physical and neurological exam to look at your overall health and see if your reflexes are working right. They’ll also perform:

  • CT scan to get cross-sectional images of the brain using X-rays
  • An MRI to get detailed images of the brain using magnets
  • Blood tests to look for tumor markers that indicate you have a tumor
  • Lumbar puncture to get a sample of spinal fluid and see if it contains tumor cells

Treatment and Care for Primary Germ Cell Tumors of the Brain

Treating a primary germ cell tumor of the brain can be tricky depending on where the tumor is located. In most cases, surgery is not an option because of how close the tumor is to the important parts of the brain. Most doctors will recommend a mix of:

  • Chemotherapy to kill tumor cells
  • Endoscopic third ventriculostomy or a ventriculoperitoneal shunt to create a small hole or place a small tube in the skull to prevent the buildup of fluid
  • Radiation therapy that uses X-ray energy to kill tumor cells