Human type II germ cell tumours (GCTs) originate from an embryonic germ cell, either as a primordial germ cell or gonocyte. This start determines the biological as well as clinical characteristics of this type of cancer, amongst others their totipotency as well as their overall (exceptional) sensitivity to DNA damaging agents. The histology of the precursor lesion, either carcinoma in situ or gonadoblastoma, depends on the level of testicularization (i.e. testis formation) of the gonad. The impact of either intrinsic (genetic) - and environmental factors involved in the pathogenesis is demonstrated by disorders of sex development as well as testicular dysgenesis syndrome as risk factors, including cryptorchidism, hypospadias and disturbed fertility as parameters. This knowledge allows identification of individuals at risk for development of this type of cancer, being a population of interest for screening. Factors known to regulate pluripotency during embryogenesis are proven to be of diagnostic value for type II GCTs, including OCT3/4, even applicable for non-invasive screening. In addition, presence of stem cell factor, also known as KITLG, allows distinction between delayed matured germ cells and the earliest stages of malignant transformation. This is of special interest because of the identified association between development of type II GCTs of the testis and a limited number of single nucleotide polymorphisms, including some likely related to KITL. Transition from the precursor lesion to an invasive cancer is associated with gain of the short arm of chromosome 12, in which multiple genes might be involved, including KRAS2 and possibly NANOG (pseudogenes). While most precursor lesions will progress to an invasive cancer, only a limited number of cancers will develop treatment resistance. Putative explanatory mechanisms are identified, including presence of microsatellite instability, BRAF mutations, apoptosis suppression and p21 sub-cellular localization. It remains to be investigated how these different pathways integrate to each other and how informative they are at the patient-individual level. Further understanding will allow development of more targeted treatment, which will benefit quality of life of these young cancer patients.