When your child is diagnosed with cancer, it can feel overwhelming This phase involves finding out if your child has cancer, and determining the type of cancer they have. Children’s cancer can be difficult to diagnose, as many symptoms are similar to those caused by less serious conditions, or injuries. This means that your child may need several tests and medical appointments before you receive confirmation that your child has cancer.

If your doctor thinks your child has a germ cell tumour, your child will have several tests which may include:

  • medical history and physical exam, including a neurological exam
  • eye exam
  • blood tests
  • medical imaging, such as
    • X-ray
    • ultrasound
    • computed tomography (CT) scan
    • magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • biopsy, with tests for genetic changes to help find the best way to treat your child
  • lumbar puncture (spinal tap).

Our section, How is cancer diagnosed? explains these tests in more detail.

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Doctors use staging to describe how much the cancer has grown. Some of the tests will also help to stage the tumour. Staging measures or is determined by:

  • where the tumour is
  • how big the tumour is
  • if the tumour has spread to other parts of the body.

Your doctor will use this information to determine the best way to treat the disease. Staging will also give your doctor an idea of how well these treatments are likely to work (prognosis).

Doctors have no standard staging system for germ cell tumours in the brain. Instead, they stage tumours based on a range of factors. They classify the factors into different risk groups.

For other types of germ cell tumours, how doctors assess the stage or extent of the cancer varies. For more information about staging, see the publications from the National Cancer Institute.

Doctors often describe germ cell tumours that are not in the brain in four stages:

  • Stage I – the tumour is only in one place in the body. Surgery has removed it fully.
  • Stage II – the cancer has spread to the organ’s outer covering, or to nearby lymph nodes. Surgery has removed all visible cancer, but some cancer cells remain.
  • Stage III – surgery cannot remove all the visible cancer, or it has spread to the lymph nodes.
  • Stage IV – the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. These can include the lungs, liver, brain or bone.