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Symptom interval and treatment burden for patients with malignant central nervous system germ cell tumours


Objective Patients with central nervous system germ cell tumours (CNS-GCTs) commonly initially present to primary care or general paediatricians. Prolonged symptom intervals (SI) are frequently seen in CNS-GCTs and have been associated with inferior outcomes in other brain tumours. This study reviewed the clinical presentation of CNS-GCTs and examined the effect of prolonged SI.

Design/Setting/Patients/Outcomes International multicentre 10-year retrospective study (2002–2011 inclusive), across six international paediatric oncology treatment centres. All newly diagnosed patients with CNS-GCT were included. Main outcome measure was time interval from first symptom to diagnosis.

Results The study cohort included 86 (58 males:28 female) patients (59 ‘germinoma’ and 27 ‘non-germinomatous’ GCTs), with tumours being pineal (n=33), suprasellar (n=25), bifocal (pineal+suprasellar; n=24) and ‘other’ site (n=4), of which 16 (19%) were metastatic. Median age at diagnosis was 14 years (0–23 years). The time to diagnosis from first symptom (SI) was 0–69 months (median 3 months, mean 9 months). A prolonged SI (>6 months) was observed in 28/86 patients (33%) and significantly associated with metastatic disease (11/28 (39%) vs 5/58 (9%); p=0.002)) at diagnosis, but not overall survival. With prolonged SI, endocrine symptoms, particularly diabetes insipidus, were more common (21/28 (75%) vs 14/58 (24%) patients; p<0.002), but raised intracranial pressure (RICP) was less frequent (4/28 (14%) vs 43/58 (74%) patients; p<0.001)) at first symptom.

Conclusions One-third of patients with CNS-GCT have >6 months of symptoms prior to diagnosis. Delayed diagnosis is associated with metastatic disease. Early symptom recognition, particularly related to visual and hormonal disturbances in the absence of RICP, may improve timely diagnosis, reduce metastatic disease frequency and consequently reduce treatment burden and late effects.

  • brain tumour
  • symptom interval
  • prolonged symptom interval
  • Outcomes research
  • intervention
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