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Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors

By

Minhhuyen Nguyen

, MD, Fox Chase Cancer Center, Temple University

Medically Reviewed Mar 2021 | Modified Sep 2022
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Gastrointestinal stromal tumors are rare cancers that start in specific cells in the wall of the digestive tract.

The average age at diagnosis is 50 to 60. People who have had radiation therapy to the abdomen for the treatment of other tumors can develop gastrointestinal stromal tumors at a later time. These tumors usually grow slowly, but some can grow more rapidly and spread to other sites (metastasize).

Symptoms

Symptoms of gastrointestinal stromal tumors depend on the location of the tumor but include abdominal pain, bleeding, indigestion, and a feeling of fullness after eating a small meal. Nausea and vomiting can occur if the tumor has grown large enough to block the digestive tract.

Diagnosis

  • Endoscopy or colonoscopy

  • Imaging tests

A doctor may use an endoscope or colonoscope (a flexible viewing tube— see Endoscopy Endoscopy Endoscopy is an examination of internal structures using a flexible viewing tube (endoscope). Endoscopy can also be used to treat many disorders because doctors are able to pass instruments... read more ) to locate the tumor and do a biopsy (remove a tissue sample for examination under a microscope). A wireless battery-powered capsule that contains one or two small cameras ( see Video Capsule Endoscopy Video Capsule Endoscopy Video capsule endoscopy (wireless video endoscopy) is a procedure in which the person swallows a battery-powered capsule. The capsule contains one or two small cameras, a light, and a transmitter... read more ) can also be used to show tumors of the small intestine, but this technique does not allow the doctor to do a biopsy.

Treatment

  • Surgical removal

If the cancer has not spread to other organs, doctors remove it surgically.

If the cancer has spread, doctors often treat it with a certain type of chemotherapy drug (imatinib). If imatinib does not help, doctors may give other chemotherapy drugs such as sunitinib and regorafenib.

Another drug called avapritinib can be given to people who have gastrointestinal stromal tumors that cannot be treated with surgery or that have spread to other parts of the body and that are caused by a genetic mutation called PDGFRA exon 18.

NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: VIEW PROFESSIONAL VERSION
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