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Cancer Health Center

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Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors Treatment (PDQ®): Treatment - Patient Information [NCI] - General Information About Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors

Gastrointestinal stromal tumor is a disease in which abnormal cells form in the tissues of the gastrointestinal tract.

The gastrointestinal (GI) tract is part of the body's digestive system. It helps to digest food and takes nutrients (vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fats, proteins, and water) from food so they can be used by the body. The GI tract is made up of the following organs:

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Gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GISTs) may be malignant (cancer) or benign (not cancer). They are most common in the stomach and small intestine but may be found anywhere in or near the GI tract. Some scientists believe that GISTs begin in cells called interstitial cells of Cajal (ICC), in the wall of the GI tract.
Gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GISTs) may be found anywhere in or near the gastrointestinal tract.

See the PDQ summary about Unusual Cancers of Childhood for information on the treatment of GIST in children.

Genetic factors can increase the risk of having a gastrointestinal stromal tumor.

Anything that increases your risk of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn't mean that you will not get cancer. Talk with your doctor if you think you may be at risk.

The genes in cells carry the hereditary information received from a person's parents. The risk of GIST is increased in people who have inherited a mutation (change) in a certain gene. In rare cases, GISTs can be found in several members of the same family.

GIST may be part of a genetic syndrome, but this is rare. A genetic syndrome is a set of symptoms or conditions that occur together and is usually caused by abnormal genes. The following genetic syndromes have been linked to GIST:

Signs of gastrointestinal stromal tumors include blood in the stool or vomit.

These and other signs and symptoms may be caused by a GIST or by other conditions. Check with your doctor if you have any of the following:

  • Blood (either bright red or very dark) in the stool or vomit.
  • Pain in the abdomen, which may be severe.
  • Feeling very tired.
  • Trouble or pain when swallowing.
  • Feeling full after only a little food is eaten.
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