GIST (Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumour)

Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumour (GIST) is a soft tissue sarcoma that grows in the digestive tract. The digestive tract is a tube-like passage from the mouth, including the stomach and to the anus, through which food passes, nutrients are absorbed, and waste is eliminated.

GISTs are more common in the stomach or small bowel, but may develop anywhere along the digestive tract. It should be noted that not all GISTs are cancerous. They can be benign and not grow into other areas or spread to other parts of the body.

Cause and Risk Factors of Gastrointestinal stromal tumours

The causes of gastrointestinal stromal tumours are unknown. Some of the risk factors include:

  • Age – GISTs are most common in people over 50 years old
  • Genetics – Though most GISTs are not hereditary, they have been found in several members of the same family in rare cases.
  • A condition called neurofibromatosis (NF) has been observed to increase the risk of GISTs.

Symptoms of Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumours

Symptoms are dependent on the location, size and stage of the tumour. Common symptoms include:

  • Stomach discomfort or pain
  • Blood in the stools (bowel motions)
  • Anaemia
  • A painless lump in the abdomen
  • Vomiting, sometimes with blood
  • Tiredness and a feeling of weakness
  • Fever and sweating at night
  • Weight loss

Diagnosis of Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumours

When the doctor suspects that you may have a GIST, he may recommend certain tests:

  • Ultrasound scan
  • Endoscopy – A thin, flexible tube called an endoscope will be passed into your mouth, down your oesophagus and into your stomach and small bowel, where the doctor will look for any anomalies.
  • Endoscopic ultrasound – This is done to show the size and position of the tumour.
  • Biopsy – the doctor may take samples of tissue from your tumour to examine further.
  • CT (computerized tomography) scan – the doctor might want to see inside your bowel in a three dimensional view.
  • MRI scan – the doctor may perform this test to build up a detailed picture of your bowel and areas around the tumour
  • PET (positron emission tomography) scan

Treatment of Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumours

The treatment of GISTSs will depend on several factors, which includes the size of the tumour, its location, and your general health.

Surgery is the only curative treatment available for GISTs. The surgeon will remove the tumour along with a safety margin and reattach the tract if a resection was necessary.

There is a new class of drugs called targeted therapy which blocks the tumour cells from growing and dividing. This treatment can be combined with surgery to provide better treatment, and prevent recurrence of GIST.