Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor (GIST)
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A tumor begins when normal cells begin to change and grow, forming a mass. A tumor can be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous, meaning it can spread to other parts of the body).
A gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST) is a type of tumor that occurs in the gastrointestinal (GI or digestive) tract, including the esophagus, stomach, gallbladder, liver, small intestine, colon, and rectum. GIST is different from other types of gastrointestinal tumors because of the type of tissues in which it starts. Originally, GISTs were thought to be either muscle or nerve tumors, but recent research points to GISTs starting in cells found in the walls of the GI tract, called interstitial cells of Cajal (ICC); these cells send signals to the GI tract to help move food and liquid through the system.
GISTs belong to a group of cancers called soft tissue sarcoma. Soft tissue sarcomas are a group of cancers that develop in the tissues that support and connect the body, and the sarcoma cells resemble the cells that hold the body together, including fat cells, muscles, nerves, tendons, joints, blood vessels, or lymph vessels.
It is important to note that GISTs can be either benign or malignant. Sometimes it may be hard for the doctor to tell immediately whether a GIST is cancerous. As a result, the doctor will look at many factors to determine the best treatment, including the size of the tumor, whether it is spreading, how many dividing cells there are, and the tumor's location.
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In 2009, approximately 4,500 to 6,000 adults in the United States will be diagnosed with GISTs. The most common locations in the body are in the stomach (50% to 70%) and small intestine (20% to 30%). The remaining types of GISTs affect the large intestine and esophagus. Most GISTs occur in people older than 50, and GIST is more common in men than in women.
Cancer statistics should be interpreted with caution. Estimates are based on data from thousands of cases of this type of cancer in the United States each year, but the actual risk for a particular individual may differ. It is not possible to tell a person how long he or she will live with GIST. Because the survival statistics are measured in five-year intervals, they may not represent advances made in the treatment or diagnosis of this cancer.
Source: American Cancer Society
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