Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor (GIST)

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Treating Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor (GIST) TOPICS

How are gastrointestinal stromal tumors treated?

General treatment information

Once a gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST) is found and staged, your cancer care team will discuss your treatment options with you. In determining these options, important factors include the tumor characteristics (such as its size, location, growth rate, and whether it has spread) and your overall health.

The main types of treatment used for GISTs include:

Other treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy, are used much less often. See “Treatment choices for gastroinestinal stromal tumors based on tumor spread” for information about some of the most common treatment plans.

Based on your treatment options, you might have different types of doctors on your treatment team including:

  • A surgical oncologist: a doctor who treats cancer with surgery.
  • A medical oncologist: a doctor who treats cancer with medicines.
  • A gastroenterologist: a doctor who specializes in treatment of diseases of the digestive system.
  • A radiation oncologist: a doctor who treats cancer with radiation therapy.

Many other specialists may be involved in your care as well, including nurse practitioners, nurses, nutrition specialists, social workers, and other health professionals.

It is important to discuss all treatment options as well as their possible side effects with your doctors to help make the decision that best fits your needs. If you have time, it is often a good idea to seek a second opinion. A second opinion can provide more information and help you feel confident about your chosen treatment plan.

Thinking about taking part in a clinical trial

Clinical trials are carefully controlled research studies that are done to get a closer look at promising new treatments or procedures. Clinical trials are one way to get state-of-the art cancer treatment. In some cases they may be the only way to get access to newer treatments. They are also the best way for doctors to learn better methods to treat cancer. Still, they are not right for everyone.

If you would like to learn more about clinical trials that might be right for you, start by asking your doctor if your clinic or hospital conducts clinical trials. You can also call our clinical trials matching service at 1-800-303-5691 for a list of studies that meet your medical needs, or see the Clinical Trials section to learn more.

Considering complementary and alternative methods

You may hear about alternative or complementary methods that your doctor hasn’t mentioned to treat your cancer or relieve symptoms. These methods can include vitamins, herbs, and special diets, or other methods such as acupuncture or massage, to name a few.

Complementary methods refer to treatments that are used along with your regular medical care. Alternative treatments are used instead of a doctor’s medical treatment. Although some of these methods might be helpful in relieving symptoms or helping you feel better, many have not been proven to work. Some might even be dangerous.

Be sure to talk to your cancer care team about any method you are thinking about using. They can help you learn what is known (or not known) about the method, which can help you make an informed decision. See the Complementary and Alternative Medicine section to learn more.

Help getting through cancer treatment

Your cancer care team will be your first source of information and support, but there are other resources for help when you need it. Hospital- or clinic-based support services are an important part of your care. These might include nursing or social work services, financial aid, nutritional advice, rehab, or spiritual help.

The American Cancer Society also has programs and services – including rides to treatment, lodging, support groups, and more – to help you get through treatment. Call our National Cancer Information Center at 1-800-227-2345 and speak with one of our trained specialists on call 24 hours a day, every day.

The treatment information given here is not official policy of the American Cancer Society and is not intended as medical advice to replace the expertise and judgment of your cancer care team. It is intended to help you and your family make informed decisions, together with your doctor. Your doctor may have reasons for suggesting a treatment plan different from these general treatment options. Don't hesitate to ask him or her questions about your treatment options.

Last Medical Review: 04/04/2014
Last Revised: 02/08/2016