Gastrointestinal stromal tumors are a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the wall of the stomach or intestines.
Gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GIST) usually begin in cells in the tissues of the wall of the stomach or intestines. These cells, called interstitial cells of Cajal, help food move along the digestive tract.
Childhood GIST usually occurs in the stomach. It is more common in girls, and typically appears in the teen years.
GIST in children is not the same as GIST in adults. Patients should be seen at centers that specialize in the treatment of GIST.
Gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GISTs) are most common in the stomach and small intestine but may be found anywhere in or near the gastrointestinal tract.
GIST may develop as part of a syndrome.
GIST may occur as part of the following syndromes:
Signs and symptoms of GIST include anemia and a lump in the abdomen.
These and other signs and symptoms may be caused by GIST or by other conditions.
Check with your child's doctor if your child has any of the following:
Tests that examine the digestive tract are used to help diagnose GIST.
The following tests and procedures may be used:
The following laboratory test may be done to study the tissue samples:
After GIST has been diagnosed, tests are done to find out if cancer cells have spread to nearby areas or to other parts of the body.
The process used to find out if GIST has spread to nearby areas or other parts of the body is called staging. GIST may spread to the lymph nodes, liver, and peritoneum. There is no standard staging system for childhood GIST. The results of tests and procedures done to diagnose GIST are used to help make decisions about treatment.
Sometimes childhood GIST recurs (comes back) after treatment.
There are three ways that cancer spreads in the body.
Cancer can spread through tissue, the lymph system, and the blood:
Cancer may spread from where it began to other parts of the body.
When cancer spreads to another part of the body, it is called metastasis. Cancer cells break away from where they began (the primary tumor) and travel through the lymph system or blood.
The metastatic tumor is the same type of cancer as the primary tumor. For example, if GIST spreads to the liver, the cancer cells in the liver are actually GIST cells. The disease is metastatic GIST, not liver cancer.
There are different types of treatment for children with GIST.
Some treatments are standard (the currently used treatment), and some are being tested in clinical trials. A treatment clinical trial is a research study meant to help improve current treatments or obtain information on new treatments for patients with cancer. When clinical trials show that a new treatment is better than the standard treatment, the new treatment may become the standard treatment.
Because cancer in children is rare, taking part in a clinical trial should be considered. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.
Children with GIST should have their treatment planned by a team of doctors who are experts in treating childhood cancer.
Treatment will be overseen by a pediatric oncologist, a doctor who specializes in treating children with cancer. The pediatric oncologist works with other pediatric health professionals who are experts in treating children with cancer and who specialize in certain areas of medicine. This may include the following specialists and others:
Two types of standard treatment are used:
Surgery to remove the cancer is a treatment for SDH-deficient GIST.
Targeted therapy is a type of treatment that uses drugs or other substances to attack cancer cells. Targeted therapies usually cause less harm to normal cells than chemotherapy or radiation therapy do.
New types of treatment are being tested in clinical trials.
This summary section describes treatments that are being studied in clinical trials. It may not mention every new treatment being studied. Information about clinical trials is available from the NCI website.
Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body (systemic chemotherapy).
Treatment for childhood GIST may cause side effects.
For information about side effects that begin during treatment for cancer, see our Side Effects page.
Side effects from cancer treatment that begin after treatment and continue for months or years are called late effects. Late effects of cancer treatment may include:
Some late effects may be treated or controlled. It is important to talk with your child's doctors about the possible late effects caused by some treatments. See the PDQ summary on Late Effects of Treatment for Childhood Cancer for more information.
Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial.
For some patients, taking part in a clinical trial may be the best treatment choice. Clinical trials are part of the cancer research process. Clinical trials are done to find out if new cancer treatments are safe and effective or better than the standard treatment.
Many of today's standard treatments for cancer are based on earlier clinical trials. Patients who take part in a clinical trial may receive the standard treatment or be among the first to receive a new treatment.
Patients who take part in clinical trials also help improve the way cancer will be treated in the future. Even when clinical trials do not lead to effective new treatments, they often answer important questions and help move research forward.
Patients can enter clinical trials before, during, or after starting their cancer treatment.
Some clinical trials only include patients who have not yet received treatment. Other trials test treatments for patients whose cancer has not gotten better. There are also clinical trials that test new ways to stop cancer from recurring (coming back) or reduce the side effects of cancer treatment.
Clinical trials are taking place in many parts of the country. Information about clinical trials supported by NCI can be found on NCI's clinical trials search webpage. Clinical trials supported by other organizations can be found on the ClinicalTrials.gov website.
Follow-up tests may be needed.
Some of the tests that were done to diagnose the cancer or to find out the stage of the cancer may be repeated. Some tests will be repeated in order to see how well the treatment is working. Decisions about whether to continue, change, or stop treatment may be based on the results of these tests.
Some of the tests will continue to be done from time to time after treatment has ended. The results of these tests can show if your child's condition has changed or if the cancer has recurred (come back). These tests are sometimes called follow-up tests or check-ups.
For information about the treatments listed below, see the Treatment Option Overview section.
Treatment for children who have newly diagnosed tumors with changes in the KIT or PDGFRgene includes the following:
Treatment for children whose newly diagnosed tumors are SDH-deficient may include the following:
Use our clinical trial search to find NCI-supported cancer clinical trials that are accepting patients. You can search for trials based on the type of cancer, the age of the patient, and where the trials are being done. General information about clinical trials is also available.
For information about the treatments listed below, see the Treatment Option Overview section.
Treatment of recurrent GIST in children may include the following:
For more information from the National Cancer Institute about GIST, see the following:
For more childhood cancer information and other general cancer resources, see the following:
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Purpose of This Summary
This PDQ cancer information summary has current information about the treatment of childhood gastrointestinal stromal tumors. It is meant to inform and help patients, families, and caregivers. It does not give formal guidelines or recommendations for making decisions about health care.
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Clinical Trial Information
A clinical trial is a study to answer a scientific question, such as whether one treatment is better than another. Trials are based on past studies and what has been learned in the laboratory. Each trial answers certain scientific questions in order to find new and better ways to help cancer patients. During treatment clinical trials, information is collected about the effects of a new treatment and how well it works. If a clinical trial shows that a new treatment is better than one currently being used, the new treatment may become "standard." Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.
Clinical trials can be found online at NCI's website. For more information, call the Cancer Information Service (CIS), NCI's contact center, at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237).
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PDQ® Pediatric Treatment Editorial Board. PDQ Childhood Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors Treatment. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Updated <MM/DD/YYYY>. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/soft-tissue-sarcoma/patient/child-gist-treatment-pdq. Accessed <MM/DD/YYYY>.
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Last Revised: 2020-11-02
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