What are Gastrointestinal stromal tumors?
Gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GIST) are a form of cancer that forms inside the stomach or small intestine. What makes GIST so unusual is that it forms around the special nerve cells that direct food throughout the body.
At first, GISTs are often so small they cause no symptoms at all. However over time they grow and can cause:
- Abdominal pain
- A feeling of growth in your abdomen
- Not feeling hungry when you would be hungry
- Dark-colored stool (a sign of bleeding in the digestive system)
GIST is very rare for patients under 40, but those experiencing symptoms should still consider GIST a possibility.
Diagnosis and Screening
Depending on your age and symptoms, your doctor may suggest an imaging test or endoscopic test. These tests will give your doctors an in-depth look at your digestive system and make sure that your diagnosis is correct.
Pros: No pain, in and out, noninvasive
Cons: While extremely rare (1 in 100,000), patients may develop allergic reactions to the dye used to create contrast in the CT scans
Pros: A very safe alternative for adults who have concerns about radiation.
Cons: Not safe for young children. Might require a mild anasthetic
Patients may also undergo a biopsy to ensure that the growth or tumor is GIST. A biopsy is usually minimally invasive and does not require a long recovery process.
Treatment and Recovery
For GIST, most patients must undergo surgery of some kind. The good news is that depending on the size and spread of the GIST, surgery can actually permanently cure you of your GIST from coming back.
The more good news? The majority of GIST cases can be treated using minimally invasive surgery.
This allows your surgeon to perform many small incisions instead of one large one.
Targeted Drug Therapy
For GIST, most drugs that your doctor is trying to stop your hormone system from creating or spreading tyrosine kinase. Treatment usually starts with the drug imatinib (Gleevec), a tyrosine kinase blocker.
If your cancer does not respond to imatinib, your doctor may try sunitinib or ripretinib. While sunitinib may be more effective than ripretinib, ripretinib has been shown to have less serious side effects.
Talk to your treatment team about which drug works best for you. Always stay informed, and remember, if you have a question ask, that’s what your doctor is here for.
What are my chances?
According to the National Cancer Institute, the five-year survival rate for GIST is 83%. That means in five years, 83% of patients who are diagnosed with GIST survive.
In patients with no spread to the other organs, that rate can jump up to 93%, however, for patients with GIST that has spread to multiple other locations, the five-year survival rate is 55%.
The great news is that GIST treatment has seen a remarkable turnaround. Over the past twenty years, GIST has undergone amazing new advances.
Surgeries once only able to stop the spread, have now advanced that a curing GIST is possible. And drug trials every day increase the chance of their becoming a cure.
If you or a loved have questions about GIST or fear you may have it, speak to your doctor today.