Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors

Gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GIST) belong to a group of cancers known as soft tissue sarcomas. They are fairly rare tumors that can start anywhere in the GI tract, but most often in the stomach or small intestine. They can also be found in the esophagus, anus, colon, and rectum, and sometimes appear in the membranous tissue lining the wall of the stomach (peritoneum) or in a fold of such membranous tissue (the omentum). Very rarely, there are case reports of tumors arising in the appendix and/or pancreas.

They can spread to sites within the abdominal cavity and to the liver, although there are rare cases of spread to the lungs and bone.

Patients with GIST are treated at our Gastrointestinal Cancer Unit. You can also review the tabs at top of this page for information on GIST cancer symptoms, risks, and treatment.


These tumors most commonly cause:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Gastrointestinal bleeding
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Signs of intestinal obstruction


One of the causes of GIST is an abnormal form of the protein Kit, which is located on the surface of normal cells.

Treatment options

Surgery has been the main treatment of GIST, including minimally invasive procedures available at UCSD. A new drug called Gleevec, which was tested at UCSD and other major cancer institutions, has been shown to be effective against GIST. In some cases, your physician may prescribe a new drug called SUTENT, which is used with Gleevec, or when Gleevec did not stop the cancer from growing.

Dr. Tony Reid has studied the use of these targeted agents for the treatment of GIST and has published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology on the use of SUTENT for patients with GIST that have progressed while on treatment with Gleevec. See the Clinical Trials Search for options available for patients with GIST.