What is an Embryonal Carcinoma?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 02 November 2019
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An embryonal carcinoma is a malignant growth which develops in germ cells. These types of cancers can be seen in men, women, and children, and they take a number of forms. If caught early, the prognosis for someone with an embryonal carcinoma can be very good, as these cancers generally respond well to chemotherapy and radiation.

These malignant growths develop when germ cells run wild. These cells are rather unique and specialized, designed to produce the gametes used in reproduction. When they start to behave erratically, they can form growths which may contain several layers of different kinds of cells, most notably in the case of a teratoma, which can include things like hair, cartilage, and parts of anatomical structures.

In men, embryonal carcinomas such as seminomas are often responsible for testicular cancer. If the cancer is allowed to grow, it can spread to other regions of the body. The equivalent cancer in women is known as a dysgerminoma. Other forms of embyonal carcinomas can include teratomas, choriocarcinomas, and yolk sac or endodermal sinus carcinomas, with these last being more common in young children.


These cancers are sometimes identified with screenings in which abnormal hormone levels are present, or during physical exams in which palpation reveals the presence of an abnormal growth. A biopsy can be taken to get a closer look at the cells in the growth to determine what is causing the abnormality and to stage the cancer. If the cancer is an embryonal carcinoma, treatment options can include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.

If a pathologist identifies the cancer as advanced, additional biopsies may be recommended to see how far it has spread. This is important for treatment, as it may determine which treatments are most appropriate, and it can be used to identify areas of the body which require monitoring. If, for example, embryonal carinoma has spread to the lungs, it can complicate treatment, recovery, and the prognosis.

Treatment for an embryonal carcinoma can be supervised by an oncologist, who will work with other members of a medical team such as an interventional radiologist to develop an appropriate treatment plan for the patient. The specific details of treatment and recovery time when dealing with an embryonal carcinoma can vary considerably, and patients should ask about these issues when discussing treatment options. Patients who are concerned about fertility may also want to look into the possibility of banking egg or sperm cells for future use.


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Post 2

@Azuza - I think I caught that episode of "Grey's Anatomy" as well. There is definitely something fascinating about a tumor that has "human" features but is really just a growth.

I remember reading somewhere that teratomas were often preserved after removal in the past. Then they would be displayed in a "freak show" or other exhibition of curiosities.

Post 1

I think teratomas are fascinating. I think a lot of other people are simultaneously fascinated and disgusted by these types of tumors because I've noticed a lot of medical shows talk about them!

I actually caught a re-run of "Grey's Anatomy" that focused on a teratoma just the other night. The show is actually what prompted me to do a little bit of research on this kind of tumor!

The episode featured a man with a "pregnant" belly that actually registered as pregnant. Originally they thought he was a psych case but the "belly" turned out to be a tumor with hair, nails, and other biological material. Now that I've read this article I know the tumor was a teratoma and he was showing as pregnant because the tumors cause hormonal imbalances.

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