Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor (GIST) Treatment

About Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors (GIST)

At Penn Medicine, patients with gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GISTs) receive their care from a multidisciplinary team of nationally recognized experts in the diagnosis, treatment and research of gastrointestinal cancer.  

Gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GISTs) are a type of soft tissue tumor. GISTs are very rare tumors that start in special cells in the wall of the GI tract, called the interstitial cells of cajal. These cells, often called the “pacemaker cells,” regulate body processes like digestion and send signals to the muscles within the gastrointestinal tract to expand and contract, moving food and liquid through the digestive system.

GISTs can occur anywhere within the digestive tract, but are found most frequently in the stomach or small intestine.

Penn Medicine’s multidisciplinary approach to cancer diagnosis and treatment provides better outcomes and gives patients with GIST access to the most advanced treatment, surgical techniques and clinical trials.

Because navigating a cancer diagnosis and treatment options can be difficult, patients who wish to connect with a cancer specialist at Penn Medicine can speak with a cancer nurse, who can help them make an appointment with the right physician.

To connect with a cancer nurse at Penn Medicine, patients should call 800-789-PENN.

Read more About Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors (GIST)

Diagnosing Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors (GIST)

An accurate cancer diagnosis from trusted cancer specialists is the first step in getting personalized treatment options to treat gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GISTs).

Patients who choose Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center, benefit from a multidisciplinary team of cancer specialists including gastroenterologists, radiologists, pathologists and surgeons who work together to provide a diagnosis and treatment plan custom designed for each patient with GISTs.

Cancer specialists at Penn Medicine are highly experienced in using the most advanced techniques for diagnosing gastrointestinal stromal tumors and are actively researching better and more precise ways to detect GISTs.

Navigating a cancer diagnosis and treatment options can be difficult, patients who wish to connect with a cancer specialist at Penn Medicine can speak with a cancer nurse, who can help them make an appointment with the right person. Penn Medicine’s contact center has experienced cancer nurses available and ready to guide patients in finding the cancer specialist right for them.

To connect with a cancer nurse at Penn Medicine, patients should call 800-789-PENN (7366).

Read more Diagnosing Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors (GIST)

Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor (GIST) Treatment

Following the diagnosis and staging of GISTs, cancer specialists at Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center develop a personalized treatment plan. Penn’s treatment options for GISTs include:

  • Surgery
    • Local excision
    • Low anterior resection
    • Liver resection
    • Radiofrequency ablation
  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy and biologic therapies
    • Targeted therapies
  • Clinical trials
  • Other treatments
    • Integrative medicine and wellness
    • Palliative care
    • Penn Home Care and Hospice

Because navigating a cancer diagnosis and treatment options can be difficult, patients who wish to connect with a cancer specialist at Penn Medicine can speak with a cancer nurse, who can help them make an appointment with the right physician.

To connect with a cancer nurse at Penn Medicine, patients should call 800-789-PENN (7366).


Surgery for GIST

Many tumors are successfully treated with surgery only. Complete removal of the entire tumor is the standard treatment when possible. When complete removal of the tumor is not possible, surgeons often remove as much of the tumor as possible to provide some relief from symptoms.

Penn Medicine offers patients one of the largest gastrointestinal surgical programs in the United States with a nationally recognized record for high-quality patient care and long-term survival.

Local excision

During this operation, the surgeon removes the primary tumor and a margin of tissue around the primary location. Lymph nodes may also be removed, although lymph node metastasis is rare with GIST, and lymphadenectomy of clinically uninvolved nodes is not necessary. Most localized tumors can be surgically removed through a skin incision, but a rectal carcinoid tumor may be removed using an endoscope.

Low anterior resection

This surgery removes a portion of the upper part of the rectum.

Liver resection

If the tumor has spread to the liver, this surgery removes the cancer from the liver. It often helps relieve or reduce the symptoms of carcinoid syndrome.

Radiation Therapy for Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors

Typically, gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GISTs) are treated with surgery and medical oncological treatments, including chemotherapy and biological therapies.

Depending on the type of tumor, location and size, radiation may be used. However, its use to treat GISTs is rare.

Chemotherapy and Biologic Therapies for GIS

Penn Medicine specializes in a team approach to treatment with interdisciplinary care and innovative approaches that use chemotherapy and biologic therapies.

Targeted Therapies

Penn’s medical oncologists are combining personalized care with personalized medicine to create targeted immunotherapies for the treatment of cancer. Targeted immunotherapies such as tyrosine kinase inhibitor (TKI) therapy stimulate the immune system to work harder, allowing it to recognize the difference between healthy cells and cancer cells and working to eliminate those that become cancerous. TKI therapy has significantly increased survival rates.

Clinical Trials

Today, more and more people are surviving cancer. Clinical trials benefit patients with access to breakthrough therapies and treatments. These new advances in cancer treatment are occurring every day at Penn Medicine, giving patients hope that even greater discoveries lie ahead. Through clinical trials:

  • Diagnosing cancer has become more precise.
  • Radiation and surgical techniques have advanced.
  • Medications are more effective.
  • Combinations of medical, surgical and radiation therapy are improving treatment effectiveness and enhancing outcomes.
  • Strategies to address the late effects of cancer and its treatment are improving quality of life.

Other Treatments for GIST

In addition to standard treatments and clinical trials, patients at Penn Medicine may wish to add additional therapies and treatments such as massage therapy, acupuncture and art therapy. These therapies do not have curative intent, and are designed to complement standard treatments, not take their place.

Integrative Medicine and Wellness Programs

At Penn Medicine, integrative medicine and wellness services can supplement traditional cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, surgery and radiation therapy. While conventional medicine plays a critical role in eradicating cancer, integrative medicine and wellness programs offer patients and their families ways to enhance the quality of their lives, minimize or reduce the side effects of cancer and cancer treatment, and promote healing and recovery.

The physicians at Penn Medicine are knowledgeable and supportive of complementary cancer treatments. The cancer team works with patients and families to integrate these supportive programs into the overall care plan, while ensuring the safety and health of patients.

The Abramson Cancer Center’s range of integrative supportive services is designed to help patients cope with the cancer experience and improve their overall sense of well-being. Services include:

The Abramson Cancer Center at Pennsylvania Hospital at Pennsylvania Hospital offers a variety of supportive care programs for patients and families, from diagnosis through survivorship. These programs are available at no cost to the patients treated at Pennsylvania Hospital, and some are open to patients treated elsewhere. These services include social work counseling, nutrition counseling, psychological counseling and spiritual counseling.

The Cancer Appetite and Rehabilitation Clinic focuses on patients with loss of appetite and weight.

The Supportive Care Clinic helps patients manage cancer-related symptoms and goals of care.

Integrative support programs include:

Support groups and educational programs are available at Pennsylvania Hospital throughout the year.

Palliative Care

Palliative care provides medical and non-medical interventions to ease the symptoms of cancer and its treatment. Palliative care includes physical, emotional and spiritual care that can enhance the quality of life for cancer patients.

Palliative care can be used to complement traditional cancer therapies, or to improve quality of life when curative therapies are no longer an option.

Palliative care is an approach to patient care that can be integrated with curative therapies at any point from diagnosis to survivorship or end-of-life care.

Palliative care services include palliative chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery as well as psychological counseling, art therapy and support groups for patients and families. The goals of palliative care are to enhance the quality of life for cancer patients and their families, and provide emotional and spiritual support to enhance personal growth.

Palliative care services are offered at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and  Pennsylvania Hospital.

Penn Home Care and Hospice Services

Penn Home Care and Hospice Services offer a full range of home health care needs by partnering three top-level home health care services under one roof:

Penn Home Care and Hospice Services offer an array of specialized therapies and medications for patients with cancer and cancer-related conditions.

Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor (GIST) Survivorship

There are more than 12 million cancer survivors living and thriving today as a result of advances in cancer treatment. However, cancer treatments can result in physical, emotional and financial complications long after the therapy is complete. Survivorship programs at Penn Medicine are a distinct phase of gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST) care and are designed to help patients' transition from their cancer treatment routine to a post-cancer care lifestyle.

Read more Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor (GIST) Survivorship


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