Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors

Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors

What is it?

Gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GISTs) usually begin in cells that are found in the walls along the gastrointestinal tract. These tumors can be malignant or benign, and don't spread into other parts of the body.

Causes, Symptoms & Risk Factors

GISTs usually affect adults. The causes of GISTs are not known. Symptoms may not appear in the early stages, but may appear as the tumor grows. Common symptoms of GISTs are:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Bleeding into the intestinal tract that may cause dark stools
  • Bleeding into the stomach that may cause the patient to vomit blood
  • Loss of appetite
  • Feelings of nausea
  • Exhaustion

Currently, there are very few known risk factors for GISTs. In some instances, they have occurred in members of the same family, although most GIST cases are clearly not inherited.

Tests, Procedures and Treatments

A doctor will perform a physical examination, review symptoms with the patient and perform testing to determine the presence of GISTs. A valuable test for identifying these tumors is a positron emission tomography (PET) scan, during which a low-dose radioactive sugar-based substance is injected into the patient’s bloodstream. Cancer cells absorb sugar more rapidly than normal cells and a special camera can detect where the radioactive material has been absorbed by tumors in the GI tract. Other tests used to identify GISTs are:

Treatments for GISTs include:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Surgery