Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors Can Form Throughout the Digestive System

Cancers occur when the cells in the body respond to a trigger and begin to grow in an uncontrolled manner. These cancerous cells don’t perform the natural duties of the normal cells and seem to “take control” of an area. Cancer can spread throughout the body the multiple organs and tissues. A rarer form of cancer is known as soft tissue cancer. Rather than forming directly on the organs, it starts in the tissue that supports the structure of the body. This includes things like nerves, tendons, lining of joints and blood vessels. 

A rare form of soft tissue cancer is the Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor (GIST). This form of tumor starts in the nerve cells that are within the walls of the digestive system. Small tumors may go unknown, as they might not cause symptoms. While most GISTs start in the stomach, they can start anywhere along the GI tract. It is possible for them to spread elsewhere as a metastatic GIST. 

Causes of Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors

GIST is not a particularly common form of cancer. Diagnosed cases are only around 5,000 each year within the United States. The most common group to get a GIST are between the ages of 40 and 70. Typically, this cancer is not passed on genetically, though there are a few rare inherited genetic mutations which can cause a GIST. 

The actual cause of this cancer is likely gene mutation. There are several genes involved in the formation and mutations to any of the individual genes can result in the formation of a GIST. The most common ones are the KIT gene and the PDGFRA gene. These genes are responsible for instructing the body on how to make receptor genes.


As mentioned, smaller GISTs can potentially cause no symptoms and can only be discovered through other means. This may be why so few are diagnosed each year. However, it’s possible that symptoms show themselves. Some are minor, while some are very serious. Some of the symptoms include: 

  • Abdominal Pain
  • Anemia
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Weight Loss
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Difficulty Swallowing
  • Being Able to Physically Feel a Growth in the Abdomen
  • Blood in Stool or Vomit

The final symptoms are arguably the most dangerous and the most worrisome. If a person finds blood in their vomit or stool, they should contact a doctor. It’s possible the tumor could be bleeding within. 


There’s really three ways that treatment can occur. In cases where the tumors are small and not showing any symptoms, it’s possible that a wait and see approach will be taken. Obviously, this will be closely monitored and any sign of growth or symptoms will then require actual treatment. 

Surgery is often the choice when handling a large or symptomatic GIST. However, there are times when surgery isn’t an option. Surgery is avoided if there’s too many tissues that have been affected or too many organs. This applies to metastatic GISTs. Surgery is often minor thanks to the use of a viewing tube and very small incision made into the abdomen. This can reduce recovery time. 

The other treatment option can be targeted drug therapy. These treatments work to eliminate cancer cells by targeting the abnormalities found within the cells. Specifically, GIST targeted therapy is aimed at one of the enzymes that help cancer cells multiply.

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