Ovarian germ cell tumors grow in the ovaries. The tumors are usually benign (noncancerous), but they can be malignant (cancerous). Treatments include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Most ovarian germ cell tumors are treatable. For malignant tumors, the prognosis depends on the tumor’s size and if cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
Ovarian germ cell tumors develop from reproductive cells (germ cells) of the ovaries. Your ovaries are two small organs in your pelvis. Ovaries are part of the female reproductive system. They produce eggs and female hormones.
Most germ cell tumors in the ovaries are benign (not cancer). Rarely, the tumors are malignant (cancerous). Ovarian germ cell tumors usually develop in young women under 20, but they can grow in older women, too. Most often, a tumor only grows in one ovary.
Treatment for malignant tumors includes surgery or chemotherapy. The outlook depends on the stage of the cancer, the tumor’s size and whether it has spread to other parts of your body. Most germ cell tumors are treatable.
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Malignant ovarian germ cell tumors are rare. Most ovarian germ cell tumors are benign.
Malignant germ cell tumors are a form of ovarian cancer. In general, ovarian cancer affects about 1 in 70 women in the United States. Less than 5% of ovarian cancers are malignant germ cell tumors. About 20% to 25% of all benign ovarian tumors are germ cell tumors.
There are several types of germ cell tumors. The most common types of ovarian germ cell tumors are:
It may be difficult to spot signs of ovarian germs cell tumors early on. Symptoms of malignant tumors don’t usually appear until cancer has advanced. Symptoms of all types of ovarian germ cell tumors include:
Anyone with ovaries can get ovarian germ cell tumors. However, young women under 30 are at higher risk of developing germ cell tumors.
After asking about your symptoms, your provider will do several examinations, procedures and tests. These include:
Germ cell tumors are diagnosed after surgery. Surgery to remove the ovary is known as oophorectomy. After diagnosing germ cell tumors, providers classify the disease using a process called staging. Providers measure the tumor size and look at its location. They determine whether the tumor has spread to surrounding tissues or other parts of the body.
To gather this information, your provider may order tests such as a CT-scan These tests help your cancer care team to determine the disease stage.
Generally, stage 1 germ cell tumor means the cancer has not spread beyond the ovaries, fallopian tubes or abdomen. Higher stages (stages 2 to 4) mean that the cancer is more advanced and the tumor is larger. It has spread (metastasized) to other parts of the body.
Healthcare providers remove benign tumors surgically. Sometimes, they need to remove the ovary (or part of the ovary) when removing the tumor. Benign tumors rarely grow back after providers remove them.
Treatment depends on the type of tumor and the stage of the disease. Sometimes, providers recommend observation after the tumor is removed surgically. This means they monitor you with regular visits to check for signs of tumor growth. More commonly, healthcare providers treat malignant ovarian germ cell tumors with:
You may not be able to prevent germ cell tumors. Be sure to get regular checkups so your provider can monitor your health and assess your risk of developing cancer.
The outlook for people with benign ovarian germ cell tumors is very good. Usually, benign tumors don’t grow back after providers remove them.
The outlook for malignant germ cell tumors varies depending on how far the cancer has spread. Cancer specialists measure cancer outlook by the five-year survival rate. If cancer hasn’t spread to other parts of the body, there is a 94% to 98% survival rate.
Cancers that have spread farther away from the original tumor site have a 73% five-year survival rate. Overall, the survival rate for germ cell tumors is around 93%. New fertility-saving treatments increase the chance that a woman can have a baby after treatment for germ cell tumors.
If you or your child has signs of a germ cell tumor, see your provider right away. Some types of germ cell tumors grow very quickly. Finding them early and getting treatment as soon as possible can significantly improve the outlook.
If you’ve received an ovarian cancer diagnosis, you may want to ask your provider:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
If you or your child has signs of an ovarian germ cell tumor, see your provider right away. Although most ovarian germ cell tumors are benign, it’s essential to get an evaluation as soon as possible. Early diagnosis and treatment greatly improves the prognosis for malignant germ cell tumors. If you have a family history of germ cell tumors or you have changes on the BRCA gene, talk to your provider about scheduling regular checkups to monitor your health.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 06/18/2021.
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