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This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http://cancer.gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.
Ovarian germ cell tumor is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the germ (egg) cells of the ovary.
Germ cell tumors begin in the reproductive cells (egg or sperm) of the body. Ovarian germ cell tumors usually occur in teenage girls or young women and most often affect just one ovary.
The ovaries are a pair of organs in the female reproductive system. They are in the pelvis, one on each side of the uterus (the hollow, pear-shaped organ where a fetus grows). Each ovary is about the size and shape of an almond. The ovaries make eggs and female hormones. Anatomy of the female reproductive system. The organs in the female reproductive system include the uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, cervix, and vagina. The uterus has a muscular outer layer called the myometrium and an inner lining called the endometrium.
Ovarian germ cell tumor is a general name that is used to describe several different types of cancer. The most common ovarian germ cell tumor is called dysgerminoma. See the following PDQ summaries for information about other types of ovarian tumors:
Signs of ovarian germ cell tumor are swelling of the abdomen or vaginal bleeding after menopause.
Ovarian germ cell tumors can be hard to diagnose (find) early. Often there are no symptoms in the early stages, but tumors may be found during regular gynecologic exams (checkups). Check with your doctor if you have either of the following:
Tests that examine the ovaries, pelvic area, blood, and ovarian tissue are used to detect (find) and diagnose ovarian germ cell tumor.
The following tests and procedures may be used:
Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery and treatment options).
The prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options depend on the following:
Ovarian germ cell tumors are usually cured if found and treated early.
After ovarian germ cell tumor has been diagnosed, tests are done to find out if cancer cells have spread within the ovary or to other parts of the body.
The process used to find out whether cancer has spread within the ovary or to other parts of the body is called staging. The information gathered from the staging process determines the stage of the disease. Unless a doctor is sure the cancer has spread from the ovaries to other parts of the body, an operation called a laparotomy is done to see if the cancer has spread. The doctor must cut into the abdomen and carefully look at all the organs to see if they have cancer in them. The doctor will cut out small pieces of tissue so they can be checked under a microscope for signs of cancer. The doctor may also wash the abdominal cavity with fluid, which is also checked under a microscope to see if it has cancer cells in it. Usually the doctor will remove the cancer and other organs that have cancer in them during the laparotomy. It is important to know the stage in order to plan treatment.
Many of the tests used to diagnose ovarian germ cell tumor are also used for staging. The following tests and procedures may also be used for staging:
There are three ways that cancer spreads in the body.
Cancer can spread through tissue, the lymph system, and the blood:
Cancer may spread from where it began to other parts of the body.
When cancer spreads to another part of the body, it is called metastasis. Cancer cells break away from where they began (the primary tumor) and travel through the lymph system or blood.
The metastatic tumor is the same type of tumor as the primary tumor. For example, if an ovarian germ cell tumor spreads to the liver, the tumor cells in the liver are actually cancerous ovarian germ cells. The disease is metastatic ovarian germ cell tumor, not liver cancer.
The following stages are used for ovarian germ cell tumors:
In stage IA, cancer is found inside a single ovary or fallopian tube. In stage IB, cancer is found inside both ovaries or fallopian tubes. In stage IC, cancer is found inside one or both ovaries or fallopian tubes and one of the following is true: (a) the capsule (outer covering) of the ovary has broken open, (b) cancer is also found on the outside surface of one or both ovaries or fallopian tubes, or (c) cancer cells are found in the fluid of the peritoneal cavity or in washings of the peritoneum.
In stage I, cancer is found in one or both ovaries. Stage I is divided into stage IA, stage IB, and stage IC.
In stage IIA, cancer is found in one or both ovaries or fallopian tubes and has spread to the uterus and/or the fallopian tubes and/or the ovaries. In stage IIB, cancer is found in one or both ovaries or fallopian tubes and has spread to organs in the peritoneal cavity. In primary peritoneal cancer, cancer is found in the peritoneum and has not spread there from another part of the body.
In stage II, cancer is found in one or both ovaries and has spread into other areas of the pelvis. Stage II is divided into stage IIA, stage IIB, and stage IIC.
Pea, peanut, walnut, and lime show tumor sizes.
In stage III, cancer is found in one or both ovaries and has spread outside the pelvis to other parts of the abdomen and/or nearby lymph nodes. Stage III is divided into stage IIIA, stage IIIB, and stage IIIC.
Cancer that has spread to the surface of the liver is also considered stage III ovarian cancer.
In stage IV, cancer has spread beyond the abdomen to other parts of the body. In stage IVA, cancer cells are found in extra fluid that builds up around the lungs. In stage IVB, cancer has spread to organs and tissues outside the abdomen, including the lymph nodes in the groin.
In stage IV, cancer has spread beyond the abdomen to other parts of the body, such as the lungs or tissue inside the liver.
Cancer cells in the fluid around the lungs is also considered stage IV ovarian cancer.
Recurrent ovarian germ cell tumor is cancer that has recurred (come back) after it has been treated. The cancer may come back in the other ovary or in other parts of the body.
There are different types of treatment for patients with ovarian germ cell tumors.
Different types of treatment are available for patients with ovarian germ cell tumor. Some treatments are standard (the currently used treatment), and some are being tested in clinical trials. A treatment clinical trial is a research study meant to help improve current treatments or obtain information on new treatments for patients with cancer. When clinical trials show that a new treatment is better than the standard treatment, the new treatment may become the standard treatment. Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.
Four types of standard treatment are used:
Surgery is the most common treatment of ovarian germ cell tumor. A doctor may take out the cancer using one of the following types of surgery.
Even if the doctor removes all the cancer that can be seen at the time of the operation, some patients may be offered chemotherapy or radiation therapy after surgery to kill any cancer cells that are left. Treatment given after the surgery, to lower the risk that the cancer will come back, is called adjuvant therapy.
After chemotherapy for an ovarian germ cell tumor, a second-look laparotomy may be done. This is similar to the laparotomy that is done to find out the stage of the cancer. Second-look laparotomy is a surgical procedure to find out if tumor cells are left after primary treatment. During this procedure, the doctor will take samples of lymph nodes and other tissues in the abdomen to see if any cancer is left. This procedure is not done for dysgerminomas.
Observation is closely watching a patient's condition without giving any treatment unless signs or symptoms appear or change.
Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body (systemic chemotherapy). When chemotherapy is placed directly into the cerebrospinal fluid, an organ, or a body cavity such as the abdomen, the drugs mainly affect cancer cells in those areas (regional chemotherapy). The way the chemotherapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.
See Drugs Approved for Ovarian, Fallopian Tube, or Primary Peritoneal Cancer for more information.
Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells. There are two types of radiation therapy. External radiation therapy uses a machine outside the body to send radiation toward the cancer. Internal radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters that are placed directly into or near the cancer. The way the radiation therapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.
New types of treatment are being tested in clinical trials.
This summary section describes treatments that are being studied in clinical trials. It may not mention every new treatment being studied. Information about clinical trials is available from the NCI website.
High-dose chemotherapy with bone marrow transplant
High-dose chemotherapy with bone marrow transplant is a method of giving very high doses of chemotherapy and replacing blood -forming cells destroyed by the cancer treatment. Stem cells (immature blood cells) are removed from the bone marrow of the patient or a donor and are frozen and stored. After the chemotherapy is completed, the stored stem cells are thawed and given back to the patient through an infusion. These reinfused stem cells grow into (and restore) the body's blood cells.
New treatment options
Combination chemotherapy (the use of more than one anticancer drug) is being tested in clinical trials.
Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial.
For some patients, taking part in a clinical trial may be the best treatment choice. Clinical trials are part of the cancer research process. Clinical trials are done to find out if new cancer treatments are safe and effective or better than the standard treatment.
Many of today's standard treatments for cancer are based on earlier clinical trials. Patients who take part in a clinical trial may receive the standard treatment or be among the first to receive a new treatment.
Patients who take part in clinical trials also help improve the way cancer will be treated in the future. Even when clinical trials do not lead to effective new treatments, they often answer important questions and help move research forward.
Patients can enter clinical trials before, during, or after starting their cancer treatment.
Some clinical trials only include patients who have not yet received treatment. Other trials test treatments for patients whose cancer has not gotten better. There are also clinical trials that test new ways to stop cancer from recurring (coming back) or reduce the side effects of cancer treatment.
Clinical trials are taking place in many parts of the country. See the Treatment Options section that follows for links to current treatment clinical trials. These have been retrieved from NCI's listing of clinical trials.
Follow-up tests may be needed.
Some of the tests that were done to diagnose the cancer or to find out the stage of the cancer may be repeated. Some tests will be repeated in order to see how well the treatment is working. Decisions about whether to continue, change, or stop treatment may be based on the results of these tests.
Some of the tests will continue to be done from time to time after treatment has ended. The results of these tests can show if your condition has changed or if the cancer has recurred (come back). These tests are sometimes called follow-up tests or check-ups.
Stage I Ovarian Germ Cell Tumors
Treatment depends on whether the tumor is a dysgerminoma or another type of ovarian germ cell tumor.
Treatment of dysgerminoma may include the following:
Treatment of other ovarian germ cell tumors may be either:
Check the list of NCI-supported cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with stage I ovarian germ cell tumor. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. Talk with your doctor about clinical trials that may be right for you. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI website.
Stage II Ovarian Germ Cell Tumors
Treatment depends on whether the tumor is a dysgerminoma or another type of ovarian germ cell tumor.
Treatment of dysgerminoma may be either:
Treatment of other ovarian germ cell tumors may include the following:
Check the list of NCI-supported cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with stage II ovarian germ cell tumor. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. Talk with your doctor about clinical trials that may be right for you. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI website.
Stage III Ovarian Germ Cell Tumors
Treatment of dysgerminoma may include the following:
Check the list of NCI-supported cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with stage III ovarian germ cell tumor. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. Talk with your doctor about clinical trials that may be right for you. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI website.
Stage IV Ovarian Germ Cell Tumors
Treatment of dysgerminoma may include the following:
Check the list of NCI-supported cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with stage IV ovarian germ cell tumor. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. Talk with your doctor about clinical trials that may be right for you. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI website.
Treatment of dysgerminoma may be:
Check the list of NCI-supported cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with recurrent ovarian germ cell tumor. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. Talk with your doctor about clinical trials that may be right for you. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI website.
For more information from the National Cancer Institute about ovarian germ cell tumors, see the following:
For general cancer information and other resources from the National Cancer Institute, see the following:
The PDQ cancer information summaries are reviewed regularly and updated as new information becomes available. This section describes the latest changes made to this summary as of the date above.
Editorial changes were made to this summary.
Physician Data Query (PDQ) is the National Cancer Institute's (NCI's) comprehensive cancer information database. The PDQ database contains summaries of the latest published information on cancer prevention, detection, genetics, treatment, supportive care, and complementary and alternative medicine. Most summaries come in two versions. The health professional versions have detailed information written in technical language. The patient versions are written in easy-to-understand, nontechnical language. Both versions have cancer information that is accurate and up to date and most versions are also available in Spanish.
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This PDQ cancer information summary has current information about the treatment of ovarian germ cell tumors. It is meant to inform and help patients, families, and caregivers. It does not give formal guidelines or recommendations for making decisions about health care.
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Clinical Trial Information
A clinical trial is a study to answer a scientific question, such as whether one treatment is better than another. Trials are based on past studies and what has been learned in the laboratory. Each trial answers certain scientific questions in order to find new and better ways to help cancer patients. During treatment clinical trials, information is collected about the effects of a new treatment and how well it works. If a clinical trial shows that a new treatment is better than one currently being used, the new treatment may become "standard." Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.
Clinical trials are listed in PDQ and can be found online at NCI's website. Many cancer doctors who take part in clinical trials are also listed in PDQ. For more information, call the Cancer Information Service 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237).
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National Cancer Institute: PDQ® Ovarian Germ Cell Tumors Treatment. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Date last modified <MM/DD/YYYY>. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/types/ovarian/patient/ovarian-germ-cell-treatment-pdq. Accessed <MM/DD/YYYY>.
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Last Revised: 2015-09-10
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