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Treating Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors Around the Corner

Gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GISTs) are rare tumors that occur in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. They start in special cells called the interstitial cells of Cajal (ICCs), which are in the autonomic nervous system and coordinate the automatic movements of the GI tract. GISTs may occur anywhere along the length of the digestive tract from the esophagus to the anus. They occur most often in the stomach or small intestine, but they can be in the esophagus, colon and rectum.

According to the American Cancer Society, GISTs are not common and statistics are not readily available. They are often most common in men, and diagnosed in people over the age of 50. Having neurofibromatosis is the biggest risk factor for GIST, but the tumors can be hereditary as well.

GIST Symptoms

Unfortunately there is no general screening test to check for GISTs. However, the earlier any tumor is discovered and treated, the better the chance of survival. If you notice possible signs or symptoms of GIST, discuss it with your doctor right away.

GIST symptoms can include any of the following:

  • Abdominal discomfort or pain
  • Vomiting
  • Blood in stools or vomit
  • Fatigue due to anemia (low blood counts)
  • Feeling full after eating only a small amount (early satiety)
  • Loss of appetite or weight loss

A Leader in Diagnosing GISTs

If you feel a lump or have symptoms that may suggest GIST, discuss them with a doctor. The physician will document a detailed medical history and ask questions about your symptoms.

After a careful physical exam, the doctor may do an endoscopy. This test uses a thin, lighted tube with a tiny video camera on the end that is passed down the throat. Other tests may include x-ray tests, CT scan, or MRIs. Biopsies can also be required, and can be collected during an endoscopy or externally by injecting a needle into the tumor.

Following a biopsy, the sample is examined under a microscope by a pathologist. One of the things the pathologist will test for is whether there are detectable amounts of the KIT enzyme. Most GISTs produce KIT, and detection of CD117 (called "expression of CD117" or "CD117 positivity") helps prove that the growth is a GIST. If CD117 is not detected, the sample may be tested for the PDGFRA protein.

Treating GISTs

Ideally, surgery should be considered, to be done by a surgical oncologist who specializes in GISTs. The size and location of the tumor and its growth rate can determine its risk. Its ability to spread can vary greatly. Distinguishing noncancerous (benign) from cancerous (malignant) tumors can be difficult. When a GIST metastasizes it usually spreads to the liver or the lining of the abdominal wall.

GISTs are commonly treated with surgery or targeted therapy drugs that use medicines that focus on parts of cancer cells that make them different from normal cells. As a specialist in treating GISTs, we offer trusted care and a personalized approach to ensure accurate diagnosis and plenty of treatment options, including clinical trials.

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