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A GIST is a type of soft tissue sarcoma|. This information is about GISTs, their symptoms, how they’re diagnosed and possible treatments. It should ideally be read with our general information about soft tissue sarcomas.
We hope this information answers your questions. If you have any further questions, you can ask your doctor or nurse at the hospital where you are having your treatment.
Diagram of the digestive tract
View a large copy of the digestive tract image|
The walls of the digestive tract are made up of layers of muscle. GISTs start in cells (sometimes called 'pacemaker' cells) that sit in between the muscle layers. These cells send signals to the muscles to push food and liquid through the digestive tract.
We don't yet know what causes GISTs. Most people who have a GIST don't have a family history of the condition. But there are very rare cases where several family members have been diagnosed with a GIST.
People with a condition called neurofibromatosis (NF) have a slightly increased risk of developing a GIST.
The stage of a cancer is a term used to describe its size and whether it has spread beyond its original site. Knowing the particular type and the stage of the cancer helps the doctors decide on the most appropriate treatment. Generally, sarcomas are divided into four stages, from 'small and localised' (stage 1) to 'spread into surrounding structures' (stages 2 or 3) or 'spread to other parts of the body' (stage 4). If the cancer has spread to distant parts of the body this is known as secondary or metastatic cancer.
The stage of the cancer is an important factor in helping your doctors plan the best treatment for you. They also consider other factors. These include: where the cancer started, how fast the cells are dividing and if there are genetic changes (mutations) in the cells. Your doctors will be able to tell you more about this.
If a cancer comes back after initial treatment, it is known as recurrent cancer. It may come back in the tissues where it first started (local recurrence) or it may come back in another part of the body (metastasis).
You will have regular check-ups at the hospital. Your doctor will examine you and ask about any side effects or symptoms. You will also have blood tests. You may also have a CT scan from time to time.
Let your doctor know if you have any new symptoms between appointments.
Having investigations and treatment for cancer can be a very stressful experience.
You may have many emotions| including anxiety, anger and fear. These are all normal reactions and are part of the process many people go through in trying to come to terms with their condition.
Many people find it helpful to talk things over with their doctor or nurse, or with one of our cancer support specialists|. Family members and close friends can also offer support.
GIST support UK| is a subgroup of the charity Sarcoma UK. Offers a support network on its website, an online discussion forum and two meetings a year for patients with GIST and their families.
This information has been compiled using information from a number of reliable sources, including:
With thanks to: Professor Ian Judson, Professor of Cancer Pharmacology; and the people affected by cancer who reviewed this edition. Reviewing information is just one of the ways you could help when you join our Cancer Voices| network.
Content last reviewed: 1 January 2013
Next planned review: 2015
For answers, support or just a chat, call the Macmillan Support Line free (Monday to Friday, 9am-8pm)
If you have any questions about cancer, need support or just want someone to talk to, ask Macmillan.
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© Macmillan Cancer Support 2013
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