About Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors

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About Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors

Gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GIST) are growths on the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, most commonly in the stomach or small intestine. GIST may be cancerous or non-cancerous growths.

Signs & Sypmtoms

These are signs of gastrointestinal stromal tumors:

  • Blood (bright red or dark) in the stool or vomit
  • Pain in the abdomen, which may be severe
  • Feeling unusually tired
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Feeling full after only a little food is eaten
  • Lack of appetite

Many other health problems can also cause these signs. If you have any of these signs, see your doctor as soon as possible.

Learn more about gastrointestinal stromal tumors from the National Cancer Institute.

Image of the Gastrointestinal System

anatomical drawing of the gastrointestinal system

Gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GISTs) may be found anywhere in or near the gastrointestinal tract.

Specialties & Treatments

The type of treatment or combination of treatments each patient has depends on the stage of the GIST, recommendations of the care team, and the patient’s wishes. These are the most common: 

  • Surgery
  • Targeted therapy
  • Watchful waiting

Huntsman Cancer Institute’s Sarcoma Service specializes in diagnosing and treating cancers and non-cancerous conditions of the bone, cartilage, fat, muscle, and soft tissues in people of all ages.

Learn more about types of cancer treatments and cancer screenings.

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Causes & Risk Factors

Anything that increases your chance of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean you are sure to get cancer. It means your chances are higher than the average person’s. Talk with your doctor to learn more about your cancer risk.

These are risk factors for GIST:

  • Having a genetic syndrome
    • Neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1)
    • Carney triad

Learn more about ways to prevent cancer and about family history and genetic counseling.

Diagnosis & Stages

Diagnosis of GIST

Doctors use these tests to diagnose gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GIST):

  • Physical exam and history: A health care provider examines your body for signs of disease. Your personal health habits, past illnesses, and symptoms help guide the exam.
  • Laboratory tests: By testing body tissues, blood, urine or other substances in the body, your health care team can check to see how the organs are functioning.
  • Imaging tests: Using dyes, x-rays, magnets, radio waves and/or computer technology, your health care provider can create detailed images of internal organs.
  • Biopsy: The health care provider removes cell or tissue samples so they can be viewed under a microscope to check for signs of cancer.

Stages of GIST

Cancer stages show whether GIST have spread to other parts of the body. Cancer spreads in the body in three ways: through tissue, the lymph system, or the blood.

There is no standard staging system for GIST. GIST are classified by whether they can be removed with surgery and their response to treatment in the past:

  • Resectable: Tumors can be removed by surgery.
  • Unresectable: Tumors cannot be removed by surgery.
  • Metastatic: Cancerous cells have spread to other parts of the body.
  • Recurrent: Tumors have come back after treatment.
  • Refractory: Tumors have not gotten better with treatment.

Learn more about the stages of GIST from the National Cancer Institute.