Survival Rates for Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors

Survival rates tell you what portion of people with the same type and stage of cancer are still alive a certain amount of time (usually 5 years) after they were diagnosed. They can’t tell you how long you will live, but they may help give you a better understanding about how likely it is that your treatment will be successful. Some people will want to know the survival rates for their cancer, and some people won’t. If you don’t want to know, you don’t have to.

What is a 5-year survival rate?

Statistics on the outlook for a certain type and stage of cancer are often given as 5-year survival rates. The 5-year survival rate is the percentage of people who live at least 5 years after being diagnosed with cancer. For example, a 5-year survival rate of 70% means that an estimated 70 out of 100 people who have that cancer are still alive 5 years after being diagnosed. Keep in mind, however, that many of these people live much longer than 5 years after diagnosis. 

Relative survival rates are a more accurate way to estimate the effect of cancer on survival. These rates compare people with cancer to people in the overall population. For example, if the 5-year relative survival rate for a specific stage of gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST) is 80%, it would mean that people who have that stage of cancer are, on average, about 80% as likely as people who don’t have that cancer to live for at least 5 years after being diagnosed. 

But remember, the 5-year relative survival rates are estimates – your outlook can vary based on a number of factors specific to you.

Cancer survival rates don’t tell the whole story

Survival rates are often based on previous outcomes of large numbers of people who had the disease, but they can’t predict what will happen in any particular person’s case. There are a number of limitations to remember:

  • The numbers below are among the most current available. But to get 5-year survival rates, doctors have to look at people who were treated at least 5 years ago. As treatments are improving over time, people who are now being diagnosed with GISTs may have a better outlook than these statistics show.
  • These statistics are based on the stage of the cancer when it was first diagnosed. They do not apply to cancers that later come back or spread, for example.
  • The outlook for people with GISTs varies by the stage (extent) of the cancer – in general, the survival rates are higher for people with earlier stage cancers. But many other factors can affect a person’s outlook, such as age and overall health, where the cancer is in the body, and how well the cancer responds to treatment. The outlook for each person is specific to their circumstances.

Your doctor can tell you how these numbers may apply to you, as he or she is familiar with your particular situation.

Survival rates for GISTs

It is very hard to get accurate numbers on survival rates for GISTs. Part of this is because these tumors are not common. In the past, they were often classified as other types of cancers, which made the numbers available for study even smaller. Treatment has also changed dramatically in recent years now that newer, targeted therapy drugs are being used. The survival rates below are based on people treated many years ago, largely before these newer treatments were used, so people being treated for GISTs today are likely to have a better outlook.

Based on people diagnosed between 2003 and 2009 the overall relative 5-year survival rate of people diagnosed with a malignant GIST was estimated to be about 76%.

  • If the tumor was still just in the organ where it started, the 5-year relative survival was 91%.
  • If it had grown into nearby structures (or spread to nearby lymph nodes) when it was first diagnosed, the 5-year relative survival was around 74%.
  • If it had spread to distant parts of the body when it was first diagnosed, the 5-year relative survival was 48%.

Remember, these survival rates are only estimates – they can’t predict what will happen to any individual person. We understand that these statistics can be confusing and may lead you to have more questions. Talk to your doctor to better understand your specific situation.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Medical Review: May 17, 2017 Last Revised: May 17, 2017

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