Gastrointestinal stromal tumor cancer (GIST) begins in specialized nerve cells present in the digestive system walls. GIST develops due to the specific change in the DNA of one of the cells that control such digestive processes as food through the intestines. The gastrointestinal tract includes the esophagus, stomach, gallbladder and bile ducts, liver, pancreas, small intestines, colon, pancreas, rectum, anus, and lining of the gut. It plays a significant role in digesting food and liquid and processing waste.
The tumor development can start in any part of the gastrointestinal tract. Several GI tumors, including gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GIST), are known. The most common locations of tumor development in the gastrointestinal tract are the stomach and small intestine. GISTs belong to a group of cancer known as soft-tissue sarcomas. Research shows that GIST starts in ‘pacemaker’ cells found in the walls of the GI tract. These pacemaker cells are known as interstitial cells of Cajal (ICCs), and they send signals to the GI tract to help move food and liquid through the digestive system.
What is Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor?
The gastrointestinal or digestive tract includes the following:
- Gallbladder and bile ducts
- Small intestine
- The lining of the gut
The gastrointestinal tract plays a significant role in digesting food and liquid and processing waste 1. When you swallow the food, it is pushed down a muscular tube known as the esophagus and then enters the stomach. The stomach muscles mix the food and release gastric juices that break down and help digest the food. The food then goes into the small intestine, or small bowel, for further digestion before entering the large intestine. The large intestine helps in removing waste from the body. The colon makes up the large intestine’s first 5 to 6 feet. The rectum forms the last 6 inches, ending at the anus.
The Growth and Spread of the Tumor
A tumor starts when healthy cells change and grow out of control, forming a tumor mass. A tumor can be cancerous or benign. A cancerous tumor is malignant, meaning it can grow and spread to other body parts. A benign tumor means the tumor remains confined to its original location. A tumor can start in any part of the gastrointestinal tract. There are several different types of GI tumors, including gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GIST).
GISTs are different from common types of GI tumors, such as colon cancer or stomach cancer, because of the type of tissue in which they begin. Their most common locations are the stomach and small intestine 2.
More about GIST
GISTs begin in specialized nerve cells present in the walls of the digestive system. These cells form part of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). A specific change in the DNA of one of these cells, which controls such digestive processes as food through the intestines, gives rise to a GIST. GISTs belong to a group of cancer known as soft-tissue sarcomas 3. Soft-tissue sarcomas develop in the tissues that connect and support the body. The sarcoma cells look like the cells that hold the body together, including fat cells, nerves, tendons, joints, muscles, blood vessels, and lymph vessels.
Research shows that GIST starts in ‘pacemaker’ cells found in the walls of the GI tract. These pacemaker cells are known as interstitial cells of Cajal (ICCs), and they send signals to the GI tract to help move food and liquid through the digestive system.
- 1.Joensuu H, Hohenberger P, Corless CL. Gastrointestinal stromal tumour. The Lancet. Published online September 2013:973-983. doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(13)60106-3
- 2.Parab TM, DeRogatis MJ, Boaz AM, et al. Gastrointestinal stromal tumors: a comprehensive review. J Gastrointest Oncol. Published online February 2018:144-154. doi:10.21037/jgo.2018.08.20
- 3.von Mehren M, Joensuu H. Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors. JCO. Published online January 10, 2018:136-143. doi:10.1200/jco.2017.74.9705