Impact of tumor markers on diagnosis, treatment and prognosis in CNS germ cell tumors: correlations with clinical practice and histopathology

Brain Tumor Pathol. 2023 Apr;40(2):124-132. doi: 10.1007/s10014-023-00460-x. Epub 2023 Mar 30.


Tumor markers in CNS germ cell tumors (GCTs) include human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) and alpha fetoprotein (AFP), which have significant diagnostic implications, as elevation of either one leads to clinical diagnosis of non-germinomatous GCTs without histopathological confirmation, justifying intensified chemotherapy and irradiation. The current study, based on an international cohort of histopathologically verified GCTs that underwent biopsy (n = 85) or resection (n = 76), sought to better define the clinical role and prognostic significance of tumor markers from serum and CSF in this challenging patient population. We found that HCG was elevated only in cases with a germinoma or choriocarcinoma component, and there existed a clear cut-off HCG value between the two. AFP was often elevated in GCTs without a yolk sac tumor component, especially immature teratoma. HCG was elevated only in CSF in 3-of-52 cases, and AFP was elevated only in serum in 7-of-49 cases, emphasizing the potential utilization of both serum and CSF studies. Immature teratoma demonstrated unfavorable prognosis independent of tumor marker status, with 56% 5-year overall survival; however, co-existent germinoma components indicated a more favorable prognosis. Taken together, the study findings emphasize the importance for routine assessment and guarded interpretation of tumor markers in CNS GCTs.

Keywords: Germ cell tumor; Germinoma; Histology; Histopathology; Tumor marker.

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Central Nervous System Neoplasms* / diagnosis
  • Central Nervous System Neoplasms* / pathology
  • Central Nervous System Neoplasms* / therapy
  • Chorionic Gonadotropin
  • Germinoma* / diagnosis
  • Germinoma* / pathology
  • Germinoma* / therapy
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms, Germ Cell and Embryonal* / diagnosis
  • Neoplasms, Germ Cell and Embryonal* / therapy
  • Prognosis
  • Teratoma*
  • alpha-Fetoproteins


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • alpha-Fetoproteins
  • Chorionic Gonadotropin