GISTS, short for Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumours, are extremely rare forms of cancer. It is thought that they make up just 0.2% of all cancer cases, and 1% of gastrointestinal cancer. In the UK alone, there are approximately 900 new cases each year.
So, what are GISTs? And how are they diagnosed? Learn everything you need to know about GISTs below.
What is a GIST?
Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumours grow specifically within the gastrointestinal tract. They are malignant tumours, and they may develop from specialised cells known as Interstitial cells of Cajal. These cells are responsible for signalling the movement of the bowels. This type of cancer is most common in adults aged 40-70 and is extremely rare in young adults and children.
The size of the tumours varies greatly between patients. Some are very small, while others are quite large. You may also develop one, or several tumours.
What causes this type of cancer?
Experts currently don’t know the exact cause of GISTs. However, what they do know is that it relates to a protein known as Kit (CD 117). When the protein becomes abnormal, it forces the cells to grow more rapidly, turning cancerous.
They are diagnosed via an endoscopy, CT scan and biopsy. This helps the surgeon to determine exactly where the tumour is, alongside how big it is, and confirms the diagnosis. Usually this is all that is needed to plan treatment.
What are the symptoms of GISTs?
The trouble with GISTs is that they tend to go unnoticed for quite a long time. This is because they don’t interfere with organ function. Even when symptoms do start to occur, they can be extremely varied. However, they often point to other, more common conditions which can make it difficult to diagnose a GIST.
The main symptoms to watch out for with GISTs include:
- Pain or discomfort in the abdomen
- Weight loss
- Gastrointestinal bleeding
- Rarely perforation
If you have two or more of these symptoms and they cannot be explained, they could point to a GIST.
Can GISTs be treated?
Although extremely rare, GISTs can be successfully treated. However, this will depend upon how many tumours are present, and how advanced the cancer has become.
At the moment, when a tumour is found, experts agree the best way forward is to remove it. If a GIST is suspected large, a biopsy may be carried out using an endoscopy procedure, or radiologically. A lot of GISTs are only diagnosed after surgery has been performed.
Depending on the size and location of the tumour, different surgical approaches may be used. The commonest approach would be with an open operation (laparotomy). But there are now more minimally invasive techniques such as keyhole surgery, or robotic surgery, of which Mr. Smith has pioneered in challenging GIST cases.
Mr. Smith has more information available on GIST and it’s management available on his page here.
Mr Smith has specific interest and expertise in GIST and has worked with GIST Support UK. So if it is suspected that you have a GIST, book a consultation with Mr Myles Smith today.
For more advice, call us on 020 3770 5864 to arrange an appointment at the HCA Lister Hospital Clinics (Chelsea Outpatient Centre and Chiswick Medical Centre) or call 020 7808 2785 to book a consultation with Mr Myles Smith at the Royal Marsden Hospital.