What is the pathophysiology of malignant germ cell tumors (GCTs) of the ovary?

Updated: Aug 10, 2020
  • Author: Andrew E Green, MD; Chief Editor: Yukio Sonoda, MD  more...
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Malignant germ cell tumors (GCTs), which include dysgerminoma, endodermal sinus tumor, malignant teratoma, embryonal carcinoma, and choriocarcinoma, are thought to derive from primitive germ cells in the embryonic gonad. GCT of the ovary is much rarer than GCT of the testis in males, and much of the development of the management approach has been based on experience with male GCT.

Common characteristics of these tumors include rapid growth, a predilection for lymphatic spread, frequent mixtures of tumor types, and a predominantly unilateral pattern of ovarian involvement (except for dysgerminoma). GCT is much more common in young women but occasionally occurs in infants and older women.

Many GCTs produce tumor markers that can be measured in the blood and then used to monitor response to treatment and for follow-up care. Endodermal sinus tumors secrete alpha-fetoprotein and choriocarcinoma, and dysgerminomas occasionally secrete beta human chorionic gonadotropin (bHCG). Dysgerminoma may secrete lactate dehydrogenase and placental alkaline phosphatase.

No factors have been established related to etiology, apart from an increased incidence associated with dysgenetic gonads.

Although these tumors may be asymptomatic and present as a palpable mass, many patients present with abdominal pain. The mass may lead to acute pain due to torsion, rupture, or hemorrhage, or, patients may have abdominal distension, vaginal bleeding, or fever.

Most are stage I and confined to the ovary at the time of diagnosis.

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