The gist of GIST Cancer

The gastrointestinal tract, also known as the digestive system, breaks down food and processes it into energy while excreting waste products. It can be affected by a gastrointestinal stromal tumor, known as GIST cancer. This type of tumor can most often be found in the stomach or small intestine, but can also occur in the large intestine, anus, or esophagus. Some gastrointestinal stromal tumors are not cancerous. These are called benign tumors, meaning they do not grow or spread to other areas or parts of the body.

 

Tumors must be found in a specific location or must have grown to a certain size before generating symptoms. A person with GIST cancer may experience nausea or vomiting if the tumor blocks part of the intestinal tract. Patients diagnosed with GIST cancer often have vague memories of abdominal pain that worsened over time. Another symptom caused by a gastrointestinal stromal tumor is an abrupt, and often unexplained, change in eating habits. This can manifest itself through loss of appetite or a quick feeling of fullness after only eating a small portion of food.

 

Bleeding of the intestinal tract is also a common and serious symptom of gastrointestinal stromal tumors. Fast bleeding can cause fecal matter to become discolored, often black and tarry. A person may feel week if the bleeding is slow but will not experience a change in bowel movements.

 

Doctors will use a variety of tests if GIST cancer is suspected. A comprehensive physical examination is usually performed along with imaging and blood tests. If a mass resembling a gastrointestinal stromal tumor is found in an imaging test, doctors will then perform a biopsy in order to check what kind of tumor it is. Cells of the abnormality are removed and examined under a microscope.

 

The primary treatment doctors use to try to treat a gastrointestinal stromal tumor is surgery. Complications such as a large tumor or one that is attached to an organ may force a surgeon to also remove part of the affected organ. Chemotherapy and radiaton may also be used in conjunction with surgery to eliminate remaining cancer cells.

 

Chemotherapy consists of a combination of drugs that try to eliminate tumors throughout the body. It is less effective than surgery and is slowly being replaced with a method called targeted therapy. In targeted therapy, doctors attempt to block the genetic changes that can cause GIST cancer. Targeted therapy may be the first treatment administered by a doctor if the tumor is too invasive or large. The treatment can shrink the tumor, making surgery possible. A newer form of treatment is radiofrequency ablation. A doctor will use this solution if multiple tumors are present or if the patient is experiencing other symptoms caused by the tumor. With this treatment, a needle is directed by the doctor into the tumor to generate heat and destroy cancer cells.

 

More research is being done on gastrointestinal stromal tumors to learn how to better combat the disease. Like other cancers, it is easiest to control or remove when found in its early stages. A visit to the doctor is always recommended when there is serious reason to suspect GIST cancer.

 

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