Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors (GISTs)

Gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GISTs) are tumors that develop in specialized cells in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract known as interstitial cells of Cajal, or the precursors to these cells. Gastrointestinal stromal tumors can occur anywhere along the GI tract, but are most often found in the stomach or the small intestine. Some GISTs can show up as noncancerous (benign) tumors while others are cancerous (malignant) tumors. Malignant GISTs will often metastasize, particularly to the liver. Gastrointestinal stromal tumors are slightly more common in men than in women. Gastrointestinal stromal tumors can occur at any age, but are far more likely to be diagnosed in people over the age of 40 years.

Signs and symptoms may include one or more of the following:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Blood in stool
  • Constipation
  • Fatigue
  • Jaundice
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Painless lump in the abdomen

The exact underlying cause or causes of GIST are unknown. In fact, there are very few known risk factors; however, there appears to be a relation to a mutation in the KIT gene. Treatment depends on the size, the location of the tumor(s), and whether the GIST is malignant or benign or has metastasized to other parts of the body. Some GISTs do not need to be treated immediately. Based on various factors, physicians may encourage active surveillance, supportive care, and alternative medicine.

Treatment options for GIST may include one or more of the following:

  • Ablation
  • Active surveillance
  • Chemotherapy
  • Embolization
  • Radiation therapy
  • Surgery
  • Targeted therapy