Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor (GIST) – What you should know

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Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor (GIST) occurs when the body abnormally grows cells in the gastrointestinal linings. These abnormally growing cells have the potential to develop into cancer and must therefore be treated as early as possible. This type of growth can be observed anywhere along the digestive tract, but it is most commonly observed in the stomach and small intestine.

Causes of GIST

The abnormal growth of cells associated with GIST is typically observed in special cells in the body known as interstitial cells of Cajal (ICCs). These cells are responsible for regulating the involuntary movements that occur in the gastrointestinal tract. According to certain studies, it is assumed that this abnormality in cells is induced as a result of abnormalities or certain mutations found in the DNA. Such mutations result in the improper behavior of the enzyme tyrosine kinase (KIT).

Signs and symptoms of GIST

In most cases, this condition goes undiagnosed for a long period of time, as the symptoms aren’t obvious. In certain cases, when the condition progresses, the following symptoms may be observed:

  • Abdominal pain and discomfort
  • Small bumps felt through the skin of the abdomen
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite and feeling full quickly
  • Bowel obstruction

Treatment options for GIST

Once the condition is diagnosed, the doctors will recommend several treatment options based on its severity. Here are some common treatment options for GIST:

  • Surgery

Surgery is one of the most common and conventional approaches to tackling tumors and has been practiced for a long time in the cancer industry. However, if the cancerous cells are widespread and highly powerful, a single surgery would be ineffective in many cases and cannot be relied on as a stand-alone treatment option.

  • Chemotherapy and radiation
    For larger and more aggressive tumors, doctors may suggest chemotherapy or radiation therapy to destroy cancer cells and prevent these cells from growing back. This type of therapy is known as adjuvant therapy. Just like surgery, adjuvant therapy has not shown any promising results in patients with GIST either.
  • Targeted therapy
    Since conventional methods of treatment have been rather ineffective in treating GIST, doctors have been trying to come up with newer solutions that work better. Several targeted drugs have been curated to target certain genes in these cancer cells and to inhibit the growth and spread of these cells. Certain medications like imatinib, sunitinib, and regorafenib act as tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) that prevent the formation of KIT from these cells.

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