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Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors (GIST) Awareness Day Blog

Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors Awareness Day

GIST Awareness Day

Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors (GIST) Awareness Day is an annual observance held on July 13th to raise awareness about GIST, a rare form of cancer that affects the gastrointestinal tract found in the wall of the digestive system. On this awareness day, Uhapo aims to educate the public, support patients and their families, and promote research efforts for better understanding and treatment of GIST to advocate patient care.

What are Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors (GIST)?

GIST is a form of sarcoma that originates in the connective tissue cells specifically in the cells of the GI or digestive tract that includes the stomach, intestines, and other organs of the digestive system. 

Research and studies show that GIST usually develops from specialized “pacemaker” cells in the GI tract also called interstitial cells of Cajal (ICCs), which help to regulate the movement of food and liquid through the digestive system.

What are the Signs of Gastrointestinal stromal tumors?

There is a variety of symptoms that can cause Gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GIST). With most stomach issues can range from the majority of symptoms including –

  • Blood in stool or vomit
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Abdominal Pain due to mass swelling
  • Feeling full while eating a small amount of food
  • Pain when swallowing food
  • Being sick
  • Low RBC in blood cells causing anemia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss

What are the Risk Factors of GIST?

There are no certain risk factors associated with GIST. However, many people who have developed GIST are probably over the age of 40 or around 50 to 80. It is highly unlikely that individuals at a younger age less than 40 yrs old will develop these conditions. In the majority of cases, genetic factors are responsible for the GIST condition to occur, especially inherited genetic syndromes. Although, some lifestyle factors are directly associated with GIST to occur in an individual such as regular alcohol consumption, smoking, or unhealthy weight.

What are the Treatment Options available for GIST?

The treatment options for Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors (GIST) can vary depending on factors such as tumor size, location, stage, and the presence of genetic mutations. Here are some commonly used treatment approaches for GIST –

  1. Surgery – Surgery is the primary treatment for localized GIST. It involves removing the tumor along with a margin of healthy tissue. In some cases, if the tumor is large or in a challenging location, surgeons may perform organ-sparing surgery or use techniques like laparoscopy or robotic-assisted surgery for a minimally invasive approach.
  2. Targeted Therapy– Most GISTs have mutations in the KIT or PDGFRA genes, which drive the growth of the tumor. Targeted therapy medications, such as imatinib (Gleevec), sunitinib (Sutent), and regorafenib (Stivarga), are commonly used to inhibit the activity of these mutated proteins, slowing down or shrinking the tumor. These medications are typically taken orally.
  3. Adjuvant Therapy – Adjuvant therapy is given after surgery to reduce the risk of recurrence. It involves using targeted therapy medications, such as imatinib, for a certain duration to eliminate any remaining cancer cells that may not be detected by imaging or pathology tests.
  4. Neoadjuvant Therapy – Neoadjuvant therapy is used before surgery to shrink large tumors and facilitate a more successful surgical removal. It can involve targeted therapy or, in some cases, other treatment modalities like radiation therapy or chemotherapy.
  5. Radiation Therapy – Radiation therapy uses high-energy beams to kill cancer cells or shrink tumors. It is not commonly used as the primary treatment for GIST but may be employed in specific situations, such as when surgery is not feasible or to alleviate symptoms caused by metastatic tumors.
  6. Chemotherapy – Traditional chemotherapy drugs are not highly effective against GIST. However, in rare cases where GIST is resistant to targeted therapy or has spread extensively, chemotherapy drugs like doxorubicin or dacarbazine may be considered as palliative treatment to help control symptoms.

How To Prevent Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors from Happening?

The risk of GIST can be lowered by adopting healthy lifestyles and habits such as reducing the intake of alcohol, smoking, and maintaining a healthy weight. There are no known risk factors that can contribute to the risk of GIST. Talk to a healthcare professional if you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms to identify the potential risk of GIST.  

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