Gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GISTs) are rare tumors of the gastrointestinal tract. They originate in the cells of the autonomic nervous system, that part of the nervous system that regulates body processes such as food digestion. About 60 percent of GISTs begin in the stomach; 30 percent arise in the small intestine. Some are found in the esophagus, colon and rectum. GISTs can be benign (non-cancerous) at first, but many can turn into cancer and these are then called sarcomas. Surgery is the usual treatment if the tumor has not spread.
Anything that increases your risk of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn't mean that you will not get cancer. Talk with your doctor if you think you may be at risk.
Risk factors for gastrointestinal stromal tumors include the following disorders:
Gastrointestinal stromal tumors may cause the following symptoms:
Sometimes gastrointestinal stromal tumors are found by chance or seen on an exam for another problem. If you are having symptoms of GIST, your surgeon will ask about your health history, your family’s history of cancer and risk factors. Diagnostic tests may include:
Samples will be taken from the primary tumor, lymph nodes, and other suspicious areas. A pathologist views the tissue under a microscope to look for cancer cells and to find out the grade of the tumor. The grade of a tumor depends on how abnormal the cancer cells look under a microscope and how quickly the cells are dividing. High-grade tumors usually grow and spread more quickly than low-grade tumors.
Pathologists at Dana-Farber Brigham Cancer Center are among the best and most experienced in the world with special expertise in providing an accurate diagnosis for complex cases. In many instances when asked to review a case to provide a second opinion, the diagnosis and treatment plan is changed.
After GIST has been diagnosed, tests are done to find out if cancer cells have spread to other parts of the body. This process is called staging.
Surgery—which removes the tumor from your body—is the primary treatment for a gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST) that hasn’t spread. Surgical oncologists at BWH are surgical specialists who are on the faculty at Harvard Medical School. They are among the national leaders in GIST surgery with special expertise in metastatic GIST surgery. The oncology surgeons at BWH are well known for having perfected many progressive surgical procedures including:
You will receive a thorough diagnostic evaluation to determine your course of treatment. Careful monitoring and the involvement of an experienced surgical oncologist are important to the successful outcome for patients with GIST.
If you are having surgery or a procedure, you will likely be scheduled for a visit to the Weiner Center for Preoperative Evaluation for pre-operative information and tests.
The day of surgery, you will be cared for in the operating room by surgeons, anesthesiologists and nurses who specialize in surgery for patients with GIST. After surgery, you will recover in the post-surgical care unit where you will receive comprehensive care by an experienced surgical and nursing staff.
The Center for Sarcoma and Bone Cancer at Dana-Farber Brigham Cancer Center provides advanced and innovative multidisciplinary care for patients with sarcoma, including gastrointestinal stromal tumors. Our treatment team includes surgical oncologists, pathologists, medical and radiation oncologists, plastic surgeons, nutritionists and anesthesiologists. In addition, patients have full access to BWH’s world-renowned academic medical community with its diverse specialists and state-of-the-art facilities.
Learn more about gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST) in our health library.
Learn more about treatment for GIST at Dana-Farber Brigham Cancer Center.
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