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Intracranial germ cell tumors

Author: Jack M Su, MD, MS


Section Editors: Jay S Loeffler, MD, Patrick Y Wen, MD, Amar Gajjar, MD
Deputy Editor: April F Eichler, MD, MPH

All topics are updated as new evidence becomes available and our peer review process is complete.
Literature review current through: Feb 2018. | This topic last updated: May 24, 2017.

INTRODUCTION — Germ cell tumors (GCTs) are classified as extragonadal if there is no evidence of a
primary tumor in either the testes or the ovaries. Extragonadal GCTs typically arise in midline locations, and
specific sites vary with age. In adults, the most common sites are the anterior mediastinum, retroperitoneum,
and the pineal and suprasellar regions. In infants and young children, intracranial GCTs and sacrococcygeal
teratomas are more common than other locations.

Intracranial GCTs are discussed here. Throughout the text we generally do not distinguish between children
and adults. It is important to note, however, that the literature on intracranial GCTs is largely based on
children under the age of 15 years, and historical data and outcomes are being extrapolated to young adults
based on a small proportion of these patients in most series.

Sacrococcygeal teratomas and extragonadal GCTs arising in the mediastinum and retroperitoneum are
discussed elsewhere. (See "Sacrococcygeal germ cell tumors" and "Extragonadal germ cell tumors involving
the mediastinum and retroperitoneum".)

EPIDEMIOLOGY — In North America and Europe, intracranial GCTs represent 0.5 to 3 percent of pediatric
central nervous system (CNS) tumors [1]. In contrast, these tumors are substantially more frequent in Japan
and other Asian countries, with a reported incidence of up to 11 percent of pediatric CNS tumors [1]. Even in
the United States, individuals with Asian/Pacific Islander ancestry have a two- to threefold higher risk of
intracranial GCT compared with whites, suggesting that genetic factors may be more important than
environmental factors in the etiology of GCT [2].

The peak incidence of intracranial GCT is during the second decade of life, with a median age at diagnosis of
10 to 12 years. There is a male preponderance of between 2:1 to 3:1, especially with tumors in the pineal
region [3,4].

ETIOLOGY

Histogenesis — Various theories have been proposed to explain the origin of extragonadal GCTs. These are
discussed elsewhere. (See "Extragonadal germ cell tumors involving the mediastinum and retroperitoneum",
section on 'Pathogenesis'.)

Molecular biology — Collaborative efforts have begun to shed light on the molecular pathogenesis of
intracranial GCTs. Prior to these efforts, the best described abnormalities were isochromosome 12p [5-9] and
gain-of-function mutations of KIT [10,11].

In an international collaborative study, 62 intracranial GCTs were analyzed using next generation sequencing
techniques [12]. The analysis confirmed many previously described alterations and identified several novel
abnormalities that may have therapeutic potential. Overall, 53 percent of tumors harbored somatic mutations
in at least one of the genes involved in the KIT/RAS or AKT/mTOR signalling pathways.
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● KIT mutations were identified in 16 tumors (26 percent), exclusively in germinomas. Mutations were
clustered in exon 17 and 11, similar to mutations described in testicular seminoma, but distinct from
those described in gastrointestinal stromal cell tumors (GIST). Such mutations may be of therapeutic
significance, as multiple tyrosine kinase inhibitors that target KIT are in development or already in use in
other malignancies.

● KRAS or NRAS mutations, downstream targets of the KIT receptor, were found in 19 percent of tumors,
mutually exclusive with KIT mutations. RAS mutations are well described in non-small cell lung cancer
and colon cancer but no effective targeted therapies have yet been identified. (See "Personalized,
genotype-directed therapy for advanced non-small cell lung cancer".)

● Mutations in CBL (caspase B-lineage lymphoma), which encodes a RING finger ubiquitin E3 ligase and
is a negative regulator of KIT expression, were identified in seven tumors. CBL mutations have been
described in some hematologic cancers and are associated with KIT overexpression. Copy number
analysis of CBL showed that 13 out of 28 intracranial germ cell tumors in this series had either clonal or
subclonal 11q loss of heterozygosity spanning the CBL locus, strongly suggesting a key role of CBL in
the pathogenesis of intracranial germ cell tumors. (See "Overview of the myeloproliferative neoplasms",
section on 'Other mutations'.)

● The combined frequency of KIT, KRAS/NRAS, and CBL mutation/genetic alteration in this series of
intracranial germ cell tumors exceed 50 percent, supportive of this molecular pathway’s contribution to
tumorigenesis and highlighting the therapeutic possibility of targeting this pathway.

● Nineteen percent of the intracranial germ cell tumors of this series showed AKT1 amplification/copy
number gain, associated with elevated mRNA expression. This discovery also suggests that use of
AKT1/mTOR inhibitors may be worthy of clinical investigation in patients with intracranial germ cell
tumors.

Other studies further confirm involvement of the MAPK (KIT/RAS) and PI3K/mTOR pathways in intracranial
germ cell tumors. One study found mutually exclusive mutations of KIT or RAS in 60 percent of germinomas
[13]. High expression of KIT mRNA was also associated with severe chromosomal instability. In another
study, KIT and RAS mutations were observed in germinomas and all subtypes of NGGCT; combining KIT,
RAS, and other less frequently mutated genes such as CBL, alterations in the MAPK pathway were observed
in 48 percent of all germ cell tumors, including 64 percent of germinomas and 20 to 50 percent of other
subtypes of NGGCT [14]. Mutations in the PI3K pathway were observed in 12 percent of intracranial germ
cell tumors, with mTOR mutations (6.5 percent) being the most common. In vitro treatment with an mTOR
inhibitor in tumors with PI3K pathway mutations led to tumor suppression.

This emerging genomic information offers promise that therapies targeting the MAPK and PI3K pathways
could prove useful in refractory intracranial germ cell tumors or in the newly diagnosed setting as part of a
strategy to further reduce or eliminate radiation in some patients.

HISTOLOGIC CLASSIFICATION — In the World Health Organization classification system, intracranial


GCTs are divided into germinomas and non-germinomatous GCTs (NGGCTs) (table 1) [15]. NSGGCTs
include embryonal carcinoma, endodermal sinus tumor (also known as yolk sac tumor), choriocarcinoma,
teratoma (immature and mature), and mixed tumors with more than one element. Germinomas comprise 60
to 65 percent of all pediatric intracranial GCTs. Approximately 25 percent of NGGCTs are mixed and contain
more than one histologic component [3,4].

Intracranial GCTs can be further defined by tumor markers secreted into the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and
serum, as well as by the presence of histochemical markers on tumor cells (table 2). Secreted tumor markers
measured in the CSF and serum include alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) and beta-human chorionic gonadotropin
(beta-hCG), and immunohistochemistry is used to detect placental alkaline phosphatase (PLAP) and c-Kit on
tumor cells.

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Histologically, pure germinomas are composed of large polygonal undifferentiated cells with abundant
cytoplasm arranged in nests separated by bands of connective tissue. The histologic appearance of NGGCTs
varies depending upon the specific cell types present [15]. Infiltrating small lymphocytes are often present
and can obscure the diagnosis, especially in small biopsy specimens.

Intracranial GCTs can also be divided into "secreting" and "nonsecreting" tumors. Secreting tumors are
commonly defined as GCTs with CSF AFP >10 microg/L (or above the institutional normal range) and/or a
CSF beta-hCG level >50 int. unit/L. Secreting GCTs are generally considered to behave more aggressively
and carry a poorer prognosis than nonsecreting GCTs.

Pure germinomas generally are associated with absent AFP and beta-hCG levels in both CSF and serum.
Although an elevated AFP in either the serum or CSF effectively rules out a pure germinoma, a minority of
germinomas are associated with elevated beta-hCG levels in the CSF and/or serum [16,17]. The source of
the elevated beta-hCG is thought to be syncytiotrophoblasts that are associated with germinomas. (See
'Beta-HCG secreting germinomas' below.)

Another classification system commonly used in Japan separates intracranial GCTs into "good",
"intermediate", and "poor prognosis" groups [18]. Pure germinomas and mature teratomas are included in the
"good prognosis" group. Choriocarcinoma, yolk sac tumor, embryonal carcinoma, and mixed NGGCTs
composed mainly of these three histologies are included in the "poor prognosis" group, with all other tumors
included in the "intermediate prognosis" group. Patients in the "good prognosis" have over-all survival
exceeding 90 percent, while patients in the "intermediate" and "poor prognosis" groups have over-all survival
rates of approximately 70 and 40 percent, respectively [18,19].

CLINICAL PRESENTATION

Location — Intracranial GCTs arise almost exclusively from midline locations. The two most frequent sites
are the pineal gland and the suprasellar regions, with pineal tumors occurring nearly twice as often as
suprasellar GCTs. Intracranial GCTs can also arise in the basal ganglia, thalamus, cerebral hemisphere, and
cerebellum [20,21].

In five to ten percent of cases, patients present with tumors at both pineal and suprasellar locations [3,4];
these tumors are usually pure germinomas. Tumor seeding or multiple tumor nodules along the lateral and
third ventricles are observed in about 10 percent of patients.

Symptoms — Presenting symptoms of patients with intracranial GCTs depend upon the location of the
tumor. Delays in diagnosis are common, especially symptoms related to endocrinopathy (delayed vertical
growth, diabetes insipidus, etc.) are associated with delays of greater than 12 months, and are associated
with higher incidences of disseminated disease [22].

Pineal tumors — Pineal tumors typically cause obstructive hydrocephalus. Patients present with signs of
increased intracranial pressure (headache, vomiting, papilledema, lethargy, somnolence) in 25 to 50 percent
of cases. Other symptoms associated with pineal GCTs and obstructive hydrocephalus include ataxia,
behavioral changes, and decline in academic performance. (See "Pineal gland masses".)

Neuroopthalmologic abnormalities (especially paralysis of upward gaze and convergence) are present in up
to 50 percent of cases. (See "Supranuclear disorders of gaze in children", section on 'Parinaud syndrome'.)

Endocrinopathies are rarely associated with pineal tumors at diagnosis, although diabetes insipidus is
sometimes observed and may indicate occult tumor involvement of the floor of the fourth ventricle and the
suprasellar area [23].

Suprasellar tumors — Suprasellar GCTs most commonly present with hypothalamic/pituitary


dysfunctions, including diabetes insipidus, delayed pubertal development or precocious puberty, isolated
growth hormone deficiency, or other aspects of hypopituitarism (central hypothyroidism, adrenal
insufficiency). (See "Causes, presentation, and evaluation of sellar masses".)
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Suprasellar GCTs can also cause ophthalmologic abnormalities such as decreased visual acuity from
chiasmic or optic nerve compression or visual field deficit (classically, bitemporal hemianopsia). Patients with
suprasellar GCTs often have chronic subtle symptoms, and their tumors are diagnosed incidentally on
imaging studies performed for unrelated reasons.

DIAGNOSIS AND STAGING — Histologic examination is needed to establish a definitive diagnosis of an


intracranial GCT and to ascertain the histologic subtype. A tissue sample should be obtained unless surgery
cannot be performed safely. Surgery to obtain tissue for diagnosis is MANDATORY for patients with normal
CSF and serum AFP and beta-hCG, as a pure germinoma or a mature teratoma must be distinguished from
other benign and malignant lesions, including pineal primitive neuroectodermal tumor (PNET), ependymoma
(pineal location), craniopharyngioma, Langerhans cell histiocytosis (suprasellar location), low-grade glioma,
hamartoma, or metastatic disease from extra-cranial tumors (either location). (See 'Surgery' below.)

An elevated level of AFP in either the CSF or serum is sufficient to classify a tumor as a NGGCT, although
tumor tissue is useful for prognostic classification and biologic studies. Patients with an elevated beta-hCG
(>50 IU/L) but normal AFP should undergo surgery if possible to distinguish a beta-hCG secreting germinoma
from an immature teratoma or a choriocarcinoma, as the latter are considered NGGCTs and need more
aggressive treatment.

Neuroimaging — Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is the preferred imaging technique for diagnosis and
staging, although computed tomography (CT) is also very sensitive in detecting suprasellar and pineal GCTs.

On MRI, intracranial GCTs appear isointense or hypointense on T1 sequences and hyperintense on T2


sequences. These tumors typically show homogeneous enhancement with gadolinium or heterogeneous
enhancement if cysts are present. Imaging characteristics of the histologic subtypes are similar, and MRIs
cannot reliably distinguish germinomas from NGGCTs [24-26].

MRI of the entire spine is imperative for adequate staging of intracranial GCTs, since 10 to 15 percent of
patients will have leptomeningeal spread diagnosis [3,23].

Tumor markers — The distinction between germinomas and NGGCTs is critical, since patients with
germinomas have a more favorable prognosis and require less intensive therapy than those with NGGCTs.
Tumor markers, such as AFP and beta-hCG, are helpful in making this distinction, although histologic
examination is required for a definitive diagnosis.

Pure germinomas and mature teratomas typically present with normal levels of AFP and beta-hCG in both
serum and CSF. Some histologically confirmed germinomas have elevated beta-hCG levels that are
presumed to be due to beta-hCG secreting syncytiotrophoblasts. In such cases, elevations of serum beta-
hCG are generally limited (<50 IU/L), although some tumors have levels >100 IU/L [16,17]. (See 'Beta-HCG
secreting germinomas' below.)

Any tumor with an elevated AFP (>10 microg/L or higher than the institutional normal range) can be assumed
to contain elements of endodermal sinus tumor and/or immature teratoma. If a histologic diagnosis is not
possible because surgery is contraindicated, such a patient should be treated as having a NGGCT. Pure
endodermal sinus tumor or pure choriocarcinomas are often associated with dramatic elevations in AFP
(>500 microg/L) or beta-hCG (>1000 IU/L), whereas immature teratomas have less dramatic elevations of
AFP and/or beta-hCG. A serum AFP >1000 microg/L has recently been identified as a poor prognostic
indicator [27,28], but since a significant proportion of these tumors have mixed components, it is not yet
feasible to use tumor markers for risk stratification without a tissue diagnosis.

Measurement of AFP and beta-hCG in the CSF is more sensitive than serum levels in detecting
abnormalities. However, discordant serum and CSF tumor marker results have been observed, and both
serum and CSF tumor markers should be obtained in the absence of clinical contraindications. If a lumbar
puncture can be safely performed, lumbar CSF is considered more accurate for tumor markers and cytology

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than ventricular CSF. However, if a lumbar puncture is contraindicated, then tumor markers from ventricular
CSF can be used for diagnostic purpose.

CSF cytology — CSF cytology should be obtained during staging of an intracranial GCT whenever a lumbar
puncture can be safely performed. Even if MRI of the spine does not show evidence of tumor involvement,
patients with positive CSF cytology are considered to have metastatic intracranial GCTs and should receive
craniospinal irradiation (CSI) as part of their treatment. (See 'Treatment' below.)

Surgery — Obtaining tissue to establish a histologic diagnosis should be strongly considered for patients
with a suspected intracranial GCT, unless the morbidity of the procedure outweighs the benefit. In addition,
immediate neurosurgical intervention is indicated for obstructive hydrocephalus from a pineal mass or for
acute visual deterioration from a suprasellar mass. (See 'Diagnosis and staging' above.)

Surgical biopsies often yield only a small sample, and this can lead to an inaccurate tissue diagnosis. As an
example, in a mixed GCT that contains both germinoma and non-germinomatous components, a small
biopsy may only include an area of pure germinoma. When the tissue diagnosis is discordant from the CSF
and/or serum markers, treatment should be based upon the result that is associated with the most malignant
histology and worst prognosis. As an example, a tissue diagnosis of a pure germinoma would be inconsistent
with an elevated AFP, and such a patient should be considered as having a NGGCT. Conversely, if the tissue
diagnosis reveals elements of a NGGCT, despite normal AFP and/or beta-hCG levels, the patient should be
treated as having a NGGCT and not a pure germinoma.

Gross total resection at diagnosis is indicated only for patients with mature teratoma confirmed by histology
and normal tumor markers, since surgery is curative and no further interventions are required [18,19,29].

A gross total resection of localized germinomas is generally not recommended because of the risk of surgical
complications and because pure germinomas are exquisitely sensitive to radiation therapy. (See 'Localized
germinoma' below.)

The benefit of gross total tumor resection in localized NGGCTs has not been established; several large series
have not confirmed that macroscopic tumor resection improves the final outcome of children with intracranial
NGGCT [19,27,28]. Instead of pursuing a macroscopic resection of a NGGCT at the initial surgery, such a
procedure may be performed more safely after tumor reduction by chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy
(RT). (See 'Nongerminomatous GCTs' below.)

With continued evolution of chemotherapy and radiation therapy for intracranial GCTs, the role of
neurosurgery for diagnosing and treating these tumors also continues to be discussed and reexamined. A
publication from the Second International Symposium on Central Nervous System Germ Cell Tumors
provides an excellent review on neurosurgery recommendations in pediatric intracranial GCTs [30].

TREATMENT

Localized germinoma — Intracranial germinomas are exquisitely sensitive to radiation. Most contemporary
series have reported long-term progression free survival (PFS) rates >90 percent for patients with localized,
pure germinomas after radiation therapy (RT) alone [31-37].

Historically, patients with localized germinomas received 36 Gy craniospinal irradiation (CSI) and a boost to
the primary tumor for a total of 50 to 54 Gy. Subsequent studies demonstrated that replacing CSI with whole-
brain or whole-ventricle irradiation in patients with localized germinomas resulted in a spinal failure rate of
less than 10 percent [18,33,38-44]. The patterns of relapse following whole-brain or whole-ventricle RT
compared to CSI were not significantly different, suggesting that recurrent germinomas after RT are unlikely
to be related to a volume reduction in RT. Whole-ventricle RT with an additional boost to the tumor therefore
replaced CSI in the treatment of localized germinoma. (See 'Whole ventricular RT' below.)

The remaining issue with RT, even when limited to whole-ventricle, however, is the incidence of clinically
significant late neurocognitive and endocrine complications. Thus, clinical research has focused on reducing
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both the dose and volume of radiation, without compromising the excellent survival rate. Germinomas are
also highly sensitive to chemotherapy, and more recent studies have added chemotherapy and reduced the
dose of RT in an effort to further minimize late complications. (See 'Neoadjuvant chemotherapy' below.)

Whole ventricular RT — The current standard of care for radiation alone (without neoadjuvant
chemotherapy) in localized germinoma is 21 to 24 Gy to the whole ventricle and an additional boost to the
tumor for a total dose of 40 to 45 Gy.

Although CSI is not required in patients with localized germinoma, retrospective data suggest that eliminating
whole-ventricle irradiation and limiting RT to the tumor increases the recurrence rate in patients with localized
germinomas.

The importance of whole-ventricle RT was demonstrated in a series of 35 patients with localized germinomas
who did not receive CSI [42]. In this cohort, 21 patients were treated with whole-ventricle irradiation, none of
whom developed recurrent disease. In contrast, 5 of 14 (36 percent) who received only focal tumor irradiation
had recurrent tumors within the ventricular system but outside the primary treatment field. Similarly, in a
second series, the recurrence rate for patients receiving localized irradiation without ventricular coverage was
higher than in those receiving CSI (28 versus 2 percent) [31]. Additional studies in support of whole-
ventricular RT for localized germinomas are discussed below.

Neoadjuvant chemotherapy — Platinum-based chemotherapy regimens have a high level of activity


against extracranial GCTs in children. As in adults with advanced GCTs, the most widely used combinations
are bleomycin, etoposide, and either cisplatin (BEP) or carboplatin (BEJ). (See "Initial risk-stratified treatment
for advanced testicular germ cell tumors".)

Based upon the excellent response and survival outcome of children and adults with extracranial GCTs,
neoadjuvant chemotherapy has been explored in patients with localized intracranial germinomas, followed by
a reduced dose and volume of RT, in an effort to minimize toxicity. Several series have shown excellent tumor
response to chemotherapy (partial and complete response rates nearing 100 percent), suggesting that
neoadjuvant chemotherapy allows for the reduction of both the dose and volume of RT in patients with
localized germinomas without compromising PFS [45-52].

While it is clear that the addition of chemotherapy may allow reduction of radiation volume (from CSI to
whole-ventricular radiation), larger studies with longer follow-up have observed that further elimination of
whole-ventricle RT increases the tumor recurrence rate [27,53-56]:

● In a series of 60 patients with localized germinomas, neoadjuvant chemotherapy followed by 40 Gy focal


RT to the tumors resulted in an eight-year EFS of 83 percent [54]. Eight of 10 recurrences occurred
outside the RT field, in the periventricular area [56].

● In the SIOP CNS GCT 96 prospective nonrandomized study, 190 patients with localized germinomas
received either chemotherapy plus 40 Gy focal RT or 24 Gy CSI with a 16 Gy tumor boost without
chemotherapy [53,57]. The five-year EFS for patients receiving chemotherapy and focal RT was less
than for those receiving RT to a larger field without chemotherapy (88 versus 94 percent). In the patients
who received chemotherapy plus focal RT, six of seven recurrences (86 percent) were ventricular, either
alone or in combination with local tumor recurrence. In the patients who received CSI, all four relapses
were at the original tumor site.

● A preliminary report of a phase II study from the Japanese CNS GCT Study Group described outcomes
in 123 patients with localized germinomas, most of whom were treated with chemotherapy followed by
focal RT [27]. The recurrence rate was higher in patients who received chemotherapy plus focal RT
compared to those who received chemotherapy plus whole ventricle RT (28 versus 6 percent).

As discussed above, the current standard of care for radiation alone (without neoadjuvant chemotherapy) in
localized germinoma is 21 to 24 Gy to the whole ventricle and an additional boost to the tumor for a total

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dose of 40 to 45 Gy. Despite the promise of neoadjuvant chemotherapy, further reduction of the total RT dose
below 40 Gy and/or elimination of whole-ventricle RT should only be done within the context of a prospective
randomized trial.

The current COG trial for localized germinoma (NCT01602666) is examining the efficacy of reducing the dose
of whole ventricle irradiation (to 18 Gy) and local tumor boost (to 12 Gy) in patients whose tumors had
complete responses to chemotherapy and compare to historical outcomes.

Chemotherapy only — Although nearly all patients with localized germinomas respond to chemotherapy,
treatment with chemotherapy alone has resulted in unacceptable tumor recurrence rates. In two series that
included a total of 64 patients with pure germinomas, recurrent disease eventually developed in 48 and 58
percent, respectively [58,59]. The Third International CNS Germ Cell Tumor Study also confirmed that a
chemotherapy-only approach led to inferior event-free survival compared to radiation-containing regimens
[60].

Beta-HCG secreting germinomas — Pure germinomas can contain syncytiotrophoblasts that produce and
secrete beta-HCG. Early reports suggested that beta-hCG secreting germinomas had a higher relapse rate
than non-secreting pure germinomas [36,55]. However, subsequent reanalysis of the data found that the
increased rate of recurrence of beta-HCG secreting germinomas was primarily related to elimination of
whole-brain and/or whole-ventricle RT [16,17,19,27,61,62], and no recurrences were observed in patients
with beta-HCG secreting germinomas who received at least whole-ventricle RT.

The major concern in patients with presumed beta-hCG secreting germinomas is whether or not the
intracranial GCT actually is a pure germinoma, or whether there also is an element of choriocarcinoma or
immature teratoma present. Although there is no consensus on the optimal approach for children with
histologically proven germinoma and a beta-hCG >50 IU/L, a repeat surgery for a more generous tumor
sample may be warranted to exclude a nongerminomatous germ cell tumor and avoid overtreatment.

Disseminated germinoma — While craniospinal radiation (CSI) is no longer considered necessary for
children with localized germinomas as long as they are treated with a combined modality approach that uses
chemotherapy and irradiation based upon the response to chemotherapy, CSI continues to be recommended
for patients with disseminated germinomas based upon MRI and/or CSF findings. Current recommendations
include treating bifocal tumors as localized tumors if the MRI of the spine and the CSF cytology are negative.

A change from the historical approach of using 36 Gy CSI was initially supported by a series of 49 patients, in
which the dose of CSI was reduced to 30 Gy and the dose of radiation to the primary tumor was decreased
from 50 to 45 Gy [31].

Additional data supporting the efficacy of a reduced dose of CSI come from an interim report of results from
the SIOP CNS GCT 96 study [53]. For patients with metastatic germinoma, the five-year PFS was 98 percent
after chemotherapy, 24 Gy CSI, and a 16 Gy tumor boost (total RT dose to the primary tumor 40 Gy),
suggesting that the dose of CSI can be further reduced when given in combination with chemotherapy even
for patients with metastatic germinomas.

Recurrent germinoma — In contemporary series of patients with pure germinomas, recurrences are most
commonly encountered in patients who received neoadjuvant chemotherapy and a reduced dose of RT. The
majority of these patients can be salvaged with radiation with or without chemotherapy [27,53,54,56,60].

Most recurrent germinomas remain sensitive to chemotherapy, and retreatment with the original regimen is a
viable strategy to reinduce a complete remission. For patients who received RT to a reduced volume, CSI is
considered the standard of care.

For patients who have already received CSI, most can be salvaged with an aggressive approach of
myeloablative high-dose chemotherapy with autologous stem cell rescue with or without additional RT, if it
can be safely tolerated [63-67].

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Nongerminomatous GCTs — Because nongerminomatous germ cell tumors (NGGCTs) are less common
than germinomas and include several histologic subtypes (table 2), available clinical data are sparse and
difficult to interpret.

NGGCTs are relatively insensitive to radiation. In small series, patients with NGGCTs who were treated with
RT alone (CSI and a boost to the tumor) had overall survival (OS) rates of 20 to 40 percent [3,4,19,68].
Combining neoadjuvant chemotherapy with RT significantly improved outcomes in patients with NGGCT,
although results remain inferior to that for patients with germinoma. In the absence of a prospective
randomized study, chemotherapy followed by CSI remains the standard of care for all patients with
intracranial NGGCTs.

Almost all the chemotherapy regimens contain a platinum compound (either cisplatin or carboplatin) and
etoposide, and some groups add ifosfamide or cyclophosphamide to this combination [69]. The most
common approach uses four to six cycles of chemotherapy prior to second-look surgery. This is followed by
RT, including CSI (30 to 36 Gy) and a tumor boost (for a total of 54 to 60 Gy).

Multiple studies have shown that neoadjuvant chemotherapy prior to RT results in long-term survival of 60 to
70 percent of cases [28,70,71]. As an example, the most recent update of the SIOP CNS GCT 96 protocol
reported progression-free survival (PFS) of 67 percent in 102 patients with localized NGGCT who received
chemotherapy and focal RT. In 28 patients with metastatic NGGCT, PFS was 72 percent using chemotherapy
followed by 30 Gy CSI and 24 Gy boost to the primary tumor and macroscopic metastases [28]. Overall,
Japanese results are similar, although there is some evidence that outcomes are better in intermediate-
prognosis patients and worse in the poor-prognosis subset [19,27,72].

The Children’s Oncology Group (COG) ACNS0122 trial studied the strategy of carboplatin/etoposide
alternative with ifosfamide/etoposide for six cycles, followed by 36 Gy CSI and local tumor boost to 54 Gy
[73]. Excellent five-year PFS and OS were observed (84 and 93 percent, respectively), prompting the
subsequent COG NGGCT trial (ACNS1123), which is examining whether, in patients with localized NGCT
who achieve a complete response with neoadjuvant chemotherapy, reducing radiation to whole-ventricular
plus tumor boost preserves the excellent survival observed in the ACNS0122 trial.

The magnitude of AFP elevation is an adverse prognostic indicator in children with intracranial NGGCTs. In
the SIOP CNS GCT 96 study, patients with normal AFP levels had a progression-free survival (PFS) of 80
percent, while those with an AFP of 100 to 1000 microg/L and those with an AFP >1000 microg/L showed
PFS of 60 and 33 percent, respectively. In ACNS0122, AFP greater than 10 IU/L was associated a negative
trend for five-year PFS but did not reach statistical significance [73]. In contrast, the degree of beta-HCG
elevation in children with intracranial NGGCTs does not appear to have an impact on survival [28,50,73].

Another potential prognostic indictor is the presence of residual disease upon completion of neoadjuvant
chemotherapy (before radiation). In ACNS0122, those with no residual tumors before radiation had five-year
PFS and OS of 100 percent, compared with 81 and 92 percent among those with residual tumors; of those
patients with residual masses after chemotherapy, fifteen patients underwent second look surgery, and five
patients had residual elements of NGGCT (one embryonal carcinoma, one mixed germ cell tumor, three
malignant teratomas). Similarly, in SIOP CNS GCT 96 trial, PFS was 86 percent for those with no residual
tumors versus 37 percent for those with residual tumors.

Craniospinal irradiation in NGGCTs — The role of craniospinal irradiation (CSI) in patients with localized
NGGCTs is uncertain [18,27,28,72]. In the SIOP CNS GCT 96 study, 25 recurrences were observed in 102
patients who had been treated with chemotherapy and whole ventricle irradiation [28]. However, there was
only one isolated spine recurrence outside of the radiation field. In the largest Japanese series [27], the
majority of recurrences in patients who received whole ventricle irradiation also occurred in the radiation field.

Although the importance of CSI for localized NGGCTs remains controversial, radiation to the primary tumor
site and ventricles does appear to be important. In patients treated with chemotherapy alone, recurrences
have been observed in 50 percent of patients [59,74,75].
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In the ongoing Children’s Oncology Group (COG) trial for children with NGGCT (ACNS 0122;
NCT01602666), patients with localized tumors who achieve a CR either by chemotherapy alone or
chemotherapy and second-look surgery receive radiation to the whole ventricle plus a tumor boost, instead of
CSI. This design will hopefully determine prospectively the significance of craniospinal irradiation for localized
NGGCT with excellent response to neoadjuvant chemotherapy.

Extent of surgery — There are no definitive data that suggest that gross total resection of NGGCT at the
time of diagnosis improves either progression-free or overall survival.

However, resection of residual tumors after chemotherapy and/or RT may have a role, with a few small series
suggesting that gross total resection may improve survival [71,72,76]. At resection, the majority of residual
masses in patients with intracranial NGGCTs after chemotherapy and/or RT are mature teratoma and/or
necrotic/scar tissue [30], although viable tumor cells have also been observed [71-73,76-79].

Preliminary results from several large series suggest that residual masses after chemotherapy and/or
radiation in patients with intracranial NGGCTs are associated with a poorer prognosis. In SIOP CNS GCT 96
[28], 16 of 34 patients with residual masses after chemotherapy and radiation ultimately experienced
recurrent disease, leading to a PFS of 37 percent [28]. In a study in patients with intermediate-prognosis
NGGCTs from the Japanese GCT Study Group, the tumor recurrence rate was worse for those with residual
masses after chemoradiotherapy compared to those without a residual mass (32 versus 5 percent) [27]. In
ACNS0122, those with no residual tumors before radiation had five-year PFS and OS of 100 percent,
compared with 81 and 92 percent for those with residual tumors [73].

Although more definitive data are needed, strong consideration should be given for second-look surgery in
patients who have residual tumors after chemoradiotherapy [30].

Growing teratoma syndrome — The "growing teratoma syndrome" is defined as a solitary enlarging
tumor, with normal or declining AFP and/or beta-HCG, which upon resection proves to be composed entirely
of a mature teratoma. This is a well-defined event that occurs in up to 10 percent of patients with extracranial
NGGCTs [80]. This phenomenon is rare in patients with intracranial NGGCTs, occurring in less than 10
percent of patients [81-88]. (See "Posttreatment follow-up for men with testicular germ cell tumors", section
on 'Growing teratoma syndrome' and "Approach to surgery following chemotherapy for advanced testicular
germ cell tumors", section on 'Rationale for resection of residual masses in patients with NSGCT'.)

Surgical resection of a probable growing mature teratoma should be attempted in patients with intracranial
NGGCTs who experience an enlarging solitary tumor during or shortly after chemotherapy or RT despite
normalization of tumor markers. This approach avoids subjecting patients to more intensive treatments due to
a mistaken diagnosis of tumor recurrence or progression.

Surgical resection for a growing mature teratoma is the only curative intervention, since these lesions do not
respond to chemotherapy or RT.

Recurrent NGGCTs — The prognosis for patients with recurrent intracranial NGGCTs is poor. Nearly all
will have received chemotherapy and RT as their initial treatment.

High-dose chemotherapy with autologous stem cell rescue has been attempted with variable success [63-
67], and prognosis for recurrent NGGCT is much worse compared with recurrent germinoma. Identification of
novel effective agents for intracranial NGGCTs is urgently needed to improve clinical outcome for children
with these heterogeneous and challenging tumors.

SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS — Intracranial germ cell tumors (GCTs) are rare brain tumors that
typically arise in the pineal or suprasellar regions. Intracranial GCTS include a number of histologic tumor
types (table 1); the primary distinction is between germinomas and nongerminomatous germ cell tumors
(NGGCTs), since NGGCTs require more intensive chemotherapy and craniospinal irradiation. (See 'Clinical
presentation' above and 'Histologic classification' above.)

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Initial evaluation — Unless clinically contraindicated, the initial evaluation of a patient with a suspected
intracranial GCT should include:

● Neuroimaging with MRI with and without contrast to include the head and the entire spine (see
'Neuroimaging' above)

● Measurement of alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) and beta-human chorionic gonadotropin (beta-hCG) in both


serum and cerebrospinal fluid (see 'Tumor markers' above)

● Cytology from cerebrospinal fluid (see 'CSF cytology' above)

● Biopsy of the tissue mass to establish a histologic diagnosis, especially in patients with normal tumor
markers (see 'Surgery' above)

Treatment of germinoma — For patients with localized pure germinoma, standard treatment with radiation
alone consists of whole ventricle radiation (RT) with a boost field to the primary tumor (Grade 1B). (See
'Localized germinoma' above.)

● For radiation only treatment for a localized germinoma, the current standard of care is 21 to 24 Gy to the
whole ventricles, followed by a boost to the tumor for a total tumor dose of 40 to 45 Gy. (See 'Whole
ventricular RT' above.)

● Several series have demonstrated that in patients with localized germinomas who achieved a complete
remission after neoadjuvant chemotherapy, radiation dose to the tumor and whole ventricle can be
further reduced without compromising the excellent progression-free survival in these patients. The
ongoing Children’s Oncology Group (COG) study will prospectively determine whether neoadjuvant
chemotherapy followed by reduced radiation to the tumor and whole ventricle will maintain the excellent
historical outcome. (See 'Neoadjuvant chemotherapy' above.)

● Although the majority of germinomas are sensitive to chemotherapy, a chemotherapy alone approach
has been associated with an unacceptable rate of relapse. (See 'Chemotherapy only' above.)

● Craniospinal irradiation is indicated only for patients with multifocal germinomas or metastatic tumors, as
identified by MRI and/or CSF cytology or those tumors who do not demonstrate either a complete
response or partial response to chemotherapy.

Treatment of NGGCTs — For patients with NGGCTs, we recommend neoadjuvant chemotherapy followed
by craniospinal irradiation, rather than either RT or chemotherapy alone (Grade 1B). This approach has
resulted in long-term survival in 60 to 70 percent of cases, and in the most recent COG series, five-year PFS
exceeded 80 percent. (See 'Nongerminomatous GCTs' above.)

● The optimal chemotherapy regimen has not been defined. The available data indicate that platinum-
based regimens, such as those used in other gonadal and extragonadal germ cell tumors, are effective.
(See 'Nongerminomatous GCTs' above.)

● Available data indicate that RT is an essential component of initial treatment. The current standard of
care is to use craniospinal irradiation. The reduction of the volume of irradiation to include only the tumor
bed and the ventricular volume, after a complete tumor response to neoadjuvant chemotherapy, will be
prospectively tested in the current COG trial. (See 'Craniospinal irradiation in NGGCTs' above.)

● In patients with residual masses after chemotherapy and RT, second look surgery should be strongly
considered.

Patients with both germinomas and NGGCTs should be encouraged to participate in prospective clinical trials
whenever possible.

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Topic 5199 Version 21.0

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GRAPHICS

World Health Organization classification of intracranial germ cell tumors

Germinomas

Nongerminomatous germ cell tumors


Embryonal carcinoma

Yolk sac tumor

Choriocarcinoma

Teratoma

Bening teratomas

Immature*

Mature

Teratoma with malignant transformation

Mixed germ cell tumors

* May contain rare malignant germ cell elements.

Reproduced with permission from: Louis DN, Ohgaki H, Wiesterl O, et al. World Health Organization Classification of
Tumours of the Central Nervous System, 3rd Edition, IARC Press, Lyon, 2007. Copyright © 2007 IARC Press.

Graphic 82711 Version 9.0

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Classification of GCTs according to tumor markers

Marker
Tumor type
β -HCG AFP PLAP c-Kit

Pure germinoma - - +/- +

Germinoma (syncytiotrophoblastic) + - +/- +

Endodermal sinus tumor - + +/- -

Choriocarcinoma + - +/- -

Embryonal carcinoma - - + -

Mixed GCT +/- +/- +/- +/-

Mature teratoma - - - -

Immature teratoma +/- +/- - +/-

AFP: alpha-fetoprotein; β -HCG: β -human chorionic gonadotropin; GCT: germ cell tumor; PLAP: placental alkaline
phosphatase.

Reproduced with permission from: Louis DN, Ohgaki H, Wiesterl O, et al. World Health Organization Classification of
Tumours of the Central Nervous System, 3rd Edition, IARC Press, Lyon, 2007. Copyright © 2007 IARC Press.

Graphic 81974 Version 9.0

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Contributor Disclosures
Jack M Su, MD, MS Nothing to disclose Jay S Loeffler, MD Nothing to disclose Patrick Y Wen,
MD Grant/Research/Clinical Trial Support: Acerta [Brain tumor (ACP196); Agios [Brain tumor (AG120,
AG881); Angiochem [Brain tumor (ANG1005); AstraZeneca [Brain tumor (Vandetanib)]; Kadmon [Brain tumor
9tesevatinib); Karyopharm [Brain tumor (Selinexor)]; Merck [Brain tumor (Pembrolizumab)]; Novartis [Brain
tumor (Trametanib, dabrafenib, BGJ398, INC208)]; Oncoceutics [Brain tumor (ONC201)]; Vascular Biogenics
[Brain tumor (VB111)]; Roche [Brain tumor (Bevacizumab)]; Sanofi-Aventis [Brain tumor (Plerixafor)].
Speaker's Bureau: Merck [Brain tumor]. Consultant/Advisory Boards: Agios [Brain tumor (AG120)]; Astra
Zeneca [Brain tumor]; Cavion [Brain tumor (Mibefradil)]; Cortice Biosciences [Brain tumor (TP12887)];
Foundation Medicine [Brain tumor (none)]; Genentech/Roche [Brain tumor (Bevacizumab)]; Monteris [Brain
tumor (Neuroblate)]; Novartis [Brain tumor (LDK298)]; Novogen [Brain tumor (GDC0084); Regeneron [Brain
tumor (PD1 antibodies)]; Vascular Biogenics [Brain tumor (VB111)]; VBI Vaccines [Brain tumors]. Amar
Gajjar, MD Grant/Research/Clinical Trial Support: Genentech [Medulloblastoma (Vismodegib)]. April F
Eichler, MD, MPH Nothing to disclose

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