A gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST) is soft tissue cancer (sarcoma) in the digestive system.
A few gastrointestinal stromal tumors or GISTs are inherited as a result of chromosomal mutations. These often run in the family. The researchers have found no apparent cause for most GISTs (soft tissue cancer in the digestive system).
The chromosomal mutation in cases of GIST may be spontaneous (abrupt) due to unknown reasons. The reasons could be
- Changes in a type of gene (oncogenes), which cause the cells to divide out of control.
- Certain genes normally keep cell growth under control, repair faults in deoxyribonucleic acids (DNAs) and genes or make cells die at the right time. These are called tumor suppressor genes. Oncogenes turn the tumor suppressor genes on or off. These types of gene changes can lead to cells growing out of control.
- Changes in other genes can cause GISTs too.
You may be at increased risk of getting GIST if you
- Are a man.
- Are at or older than 50 years of age.
- Have a history of neurofibromatosis (a genetic disorder of the nervous system).
- Have a family history of GIST.
What does GIST mean?
A gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST) is soft tissue cancer (sarcoma) in the digestive system. These are rare tumors that start in the cells of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract wall called interstitial cells of Cajal (ICCs). These cells are part of the autonomic nervous system and they coordinate the involuntary movements of the digestive tract. Sometimes, these cells are called pacemakers of the digestive tract because they send signals to the muscles of the digestive system to move the food and liquid further.
It may occur anywhere in the digestive tract. However, approximately 50 to 70 percent of all GISTs may start in the stomach whereas 20 to 30 percent of GISTs arise in the small bowel (intestine). They may also occur in the esophagus (gullet), colon, (gut), and rectum.
Some GISTs can be very tiny and usually grow slowly. They may never need treatment. However, some may grow and spread much faster than other types, and doctors often need to surgically remove these tumors.
What are the symptoms of GIST?
In the early stages of gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST), there may not be any symptoms of the disease. GISTs are diagnosed once you develop symptoms, which include
- Stomach discomfort or pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Blood in stools
- Lump that you can feel
- Blood in vomit
- Anemia (low blood count)
- Feeling full after eating a small meal
- Difficulty in swallowing
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
These symptoms may occur due to GIST or other less serious causes. You should promptly discuss the symptoms with your doctor.
What are the treatment options?
After the diagnosis of gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST), it is necessary to determine the best treatment options, such as
- Chemotherapy: Targeted anticancer drugs, such as Gleevec (imatinib), Stivarga (regorafenib), and Sutent (sunitinib), may shrink or kill the cancerous cells and reduce the spread of cancer.
- Radiation therapy: The use of high-energy radiation to shrink cancer cells, tumors, and noncancerous diseases.
- Chemotherapy along with radiation therapy: You may be suggested radiation therapy with low-dose chemotherapy concurrently to stop the recurrence. However, there is no effective prevention against the recurrence of GIST yet. When GISTs can’t be removed or have spread, targeted medicine may help you live longer and better.
- Surgical removal: The only treatment for GIST is sometimes surgery. It removes the tumor completely. However, surgery alone for larger GISTs or GISTs that have spread may yield disappointing results.