Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors

Gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST) is a type of sarcoma, an uncommon cancer that develops in soft tissues or bones. Although GISTs are the most frequently diagnosed type of sarcoma, they are still very rare. The tumors originate in the interstitial cells of Cajal (ICCs) in the walls of the gastrointestinal tract. ICCs generate the muscle contractions needed to move food and liquids through the digestive system.

Due to the rarity of GISTs, specialized treatment is important. The multidisciplinary team at the Sarcoma Center of Excellence in Cancer Institute is composed of physicians who are dedicated to diagnosing and treating GISTs and other types of sarcoma. Our patients work closely with seasoned experts who offer the latest treatment options, including advanced targeted drug therapies that focus on specific tumor characteristics to inhibit the growth and replication of cancerous cells. In recognition of our consistently outstanding cancer outcomes, U.S. News & World Report has awarded TGH the prestigious “High Performing in Cancer” designation for 2023-24.

Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor Causes

As with many types of cancer, the causes of gastrointestinal stromal tumors are not fully understood. Based on research performed to date, scientists do not believe lifestyle choices or environmental risk factors play a role in their development. However, several harmful gene mutations — which can be passed from parent to child or occur spontaneously — have been linked to GISTs. For instance, 95% of people who are diagnosed with a gastrointestinal stromal tumor have a mutation in the KIT oncogene, which produces the CD117 protein responsible for directing cells to grow and divide. The mutation causes an overproduction of ICCs.

Similarly, a mutation in the platelet-derived growth factor receptor alpha (PDGFRA) gene is also associated with GISTs. Because the PDGFRA protein controls many important cellular processes, including growth, division and cell survival, a PDGFRA gene mutation can lead to the uncontrolled growth and division of ICCs.

Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor Symptoms

GISTs do not always cause noticeable symptoms. However, some patients experience:

  • Abdominal pain and bloating
  • Bleeding from the bowel
  • Fatigue
  • Decreased appetite

Diagnosing Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors

The diagnostic process for a GIST may involve:

Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor Survival Rate

After being diagnosed with cancer, many people are interested in learning as much as they can about their condition, including the survival rate. This information can be helpful in certain situations; for instance, it serves as a useful benchmark for researchers and clinicians. However, it must always be viewed in the proper context, especially by patients.

Currently, the five-year GIST survival rate is 85%. Like all cancer survival rates, the gastrointestinal stromal tumor survival rate is intended to describe the average experience of a large group of people, each of whom is unique and has different circumstances. It is also important to keep in mind that these patients were treated several years ago, before the current standard of care was available.

Additionally, hospital selection plays a key role in the survival of a cancer patient. Because gastrointestinal stromal tumors are relatively uncommon, it is essential to seek care at a high-volume cancer center. Even though the physicians at a low-volume hospital may be highly qualified, they often do not have sufficient opportunities to gain experience in diagnosing and treating rare conditions like GISTs. Significantly, when treated at a high-volume cancer center, approximately one-half of all cancer patients achieve outcomes that exceed national averages.

In sum, due to factors such as the patient’s overall health, recent advances in medical science and other dynamics, a current patient may experience a better outcome than an existing survival statistic might suggest.

Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor Treatments

Common treatment options for intestinal cancer include:

  • Surgical removal, which may be appropriate for a localized, low-risk GIST
  • Chemotherapy with imatinib, a tyrosine kinase inhibitor (TKI) and cancer growth blocker

Benefit From World-Class Care at TGH

The experienced gastrointestinal oncologists in TGH’s Sarcoma Center of Excellence create a tailored treatment plan for each patient based on the patient’s unique needs and preferences. We firmly believe this is the key to achieving the best possible outcome and quality of life.

If you would like to talk with a GIST expert on our team, contact us at (813) 844-4151 to arrange an appointment.