Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor (GIST)

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Treating Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor (GIST) TOPICS

Surgery for gastrointestinal stromal tumor

The main treatment for a gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST) that hasn’t spread is usually surgery. The goal of the surgery is to remove all of the cancer.

If the tumor is small, it often can be removed along with a small area of normal tissue around it. This is done through an incision (cut) in the skin, but the exact type of surgery depends on where the tumor is. Unlike many other cancers, GIST almost never spreads to the lymph nodes, so removing nearby lymph nodes is usually not needed.

For some small cancers, “keyhole” (laparoscopic) surgery may be an option. Instead of making a large incision in the skin to remove the tumor, the surgeon makes several small incisions. Long, thin surgical tools are then placed through these incisions (along with a tiny video camera) to remove the tumor. Because the incisions are small, patients usually recover more quickly from this type of surgery than from traditional surgery.

If the tumor is large or growing into other organs, the surgeon could still try to remove it entirely. To do this, the doctor might have to remove portions of organs (such as sections of the intestines). The surgeon might also remove GISTs that have spread elsewhere in the abdomen, such as the liver.

Another option for tumors that are large or have grown into nearby areas is to first treat the patient with the drug imatinib (see the “Targeted therapy for gastrointestinal stromal tumor” section) to try to shrink the tumor to make it easier to remove with surgery.

No matter what type of surgery is done, it is very important that it is done carefully by a surgeon with experience treating GISTs. GISTs are often delicate tumors, and surgeons must be careful not to open the lining that surrounds them (known as the capsule), because it might increase the risk of spreading the cancer. GISTs also tend to have a lot of blood vessels, so surgeons have to be careful to control any bleeding from the tumor.

Last Medical Review: 12/11/2012
Last Revised: 02/26/2013