The treatment of cranial germ cell tumours

Cancer Treat Rev. 2000 Aug;26(4):233-42. doi: 10.1053/ctrv.2000.0169.


Germ cell tumours of the central nervous system (CNS) include many subtypes whose response to treatment varies, even though the symptoms and radiological appearances are similar. Five-year survival rates are 96% for germinomas, 100% for mature teratomas, 67% for immature teratomas and 69% for immature teratomas mixed with germinomas; for beta-HCG secreting germinomas the rate is only 38%. Patients with choriocarcinoma, embryonal carcinoma, or yolk sac tumour have the lowest survival rates; patients with germinoma or mature teratoma have longer survival rates. Although a wider resection is associated with a higher rate of survival for patients with non-germinomatous germ cell (NGGC) tumours, to date an aggressive surgical approach has been advocated only for pineal region tumours, but not for hypothalamic/neurohypophyseal tumours. Beside the delayed injury induced by radiotherapy, the late injury induced by chemotherapy is becoming increasingly evident. Cisplatin is considered an indispensable drug, but it may cause renal damage, ototoxicity, peripheral neuropathy and sterility, while etoposide is associated with an excess frequency of second neoplasms. Taking into account all of the published literature, the following therapeutic options are suggested: in pure germinoma tumours (GT) radiotherapy alone will usually ensure adequate control of the disease, and the long-term sequelae may be limited by reducing the dose delivered, as was proposed for germ cell testicular tumours, to 30 Gy to limited fields plus 25-30 Gy to the spinal axis if there is disseminated disease. In cases of recurrence, which should be uncommon, patients may be rescued with both radiotherapy and chemotherapy. In NGGC tumours, the prognosis is more unfavourable and there is often dissemination to the spine at diagnosis; however, the tumour's high chemosensitivity suggests neoadjuvant treatment chemotherapy with cisplatin and etoposide for three cycles followed by consolidation radiotherapy with 40 Gy to the limited fields plus 30 Gy to the spinal axis if disseminated. In our opinion, a higher dose of radiotherapy in cases in which chemotherapy does not achieve a radiological complete remission is not advisable, because very often the residual radiological abnormality does not represent biologically active tumour but differentiated forms such as mature teratoma. The challenge for 2000 is to both cure these patients, and avoid the late and permanent sequelae of radiation and/or chemotherapy that may subsequently impair quality of life.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain Neoplasms / mortality
  • Brain Neoplasms / pathology
  • Brain Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Cranial Irradiation
  • Drug Therapy
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms, Germ Cell and Embryonal / mortality
  • Neoplasms, Germ Cell and Embryonal / pathology
  • Neoplasms, Germ Cell and Embryonal / therapy*
  • Neurosurgical Procedures
  • Prognosis
  • Radiotherapy Dosage
  • Survival Rate