Being diagnosed with a GI tumor can be alarming. Luckily, there can be an easy cure for these tumors: gastrointestinal stromal tumor surgery.
Keep reading to learn more about this condition and its surgical treatment.
What is a Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor (GIST)?
When cells multiply rapidly and do not stop growing, tumors can result. Stromal tumors arise in the cells of the gastrointestinal tract.
Your digestive tract processes food for energy. Its parts include your esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and large intestine.
Most gastrointestinal stromal tumors are found in the stomach. However, they are also commonly found in the small intestine, and they can be found anywhere in the GI tract.
This cancer is relatively uncommon. GISTs are thought to start in specials cells found in the digestive tract called interstitial cells of Cajal. These cells tell the digestive tract when to contract.
What Causes Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors?
Some cancers are brought about by certain lifestyle factors, and some are caused by genetic causes (heredity).
Unfortunately, stromal tumors have no known cause. Therefore, there are no known prevention strategies, like how quitting smoking helps prevent lung cancer.
Typically, they are found in older adults, rather than people under the age of 40.
Your doctor will go over your personal medical history, as well as your family’s history, to determine whether a rare genetic disorder played a part in developing stromal tumors.
Symptoms of GISTs
Before you consider gastrointestinal stromal tumor surgery, you may be wondering how it is usually diagnosed. Most patients discover they have stromal tumors when seeking treatment for its symptoms.
Because stromal tumors can often bleed, many of the symptoms are related to the abnormal presence of blood.
Symptoms of GISTs include:
- Vomiting blood
- Black or tarry bowel movements
- Bloody (bright red) bowel movements
- Fatigue related to anemia
Other symptoms can include:
- Abdominal pain or swelling
- A mass in the abdomen
- Nausea and vomiting
- Feeling full after a small meal
- Appetite loss
- Weight loss
- Problems swallowing (if tumors found in the esophagus)
Experiencing these symptoms may lead your doctor to perform tests to determine whether you have a stromal tumor.
Tests to Diagnose Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors
Tests using imaging strategies can include:
- CT Scan: this test reveals detailed images of your soft tissues, unlike x-rays which don’t provide much detail on soft tissues
- MRI: this test uses radio waves and/or magnets to produce detailed pictures of your soft organs
- Barium scans: In these types of x-rays, a chalky substance coats a portion of your GI tract, which makes it appear on the x-ray. These tests are now less common.
- PET scan: this scan uses a radioactive sugar, which you ingest prior to the scan, to show where abnormal growths may be in the body. This test can be helpful if your other scans were inconclusive.
Endoscopies are tests in which a camera is introduced into your GI tract to produce images. An advantage to these tests is that biopsies can be performed if needed.
- Upper endoscopy: an endoscope enters the mouth and can travel through the esophagus, stomach, and the upper part of the small intestine. Medication is given to relax you during this short test.
- Colonoscopy: an endoscope is inserted into the anus so that your doctor can get a detailed look at your rectum and colon. You will have to prepare for this test by fasting and taking laxatives. You will be given medication to relax you during this procedure.
- Capsule endoscopy: This test requires you to swallow a small pill with a camera inside it that can capture pictures of your small intestine which cannot be seen with the other types of edoscopies. You swallow this “pill” and it will pass with a normal bowel movement and can be flushed.
Depending on the findings from these tests, your doctor may order other tests, including biopsies and blood tests, such as a complete blood count and liver function test.
Treatment: Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor Surgery
For most people diagnosed with stromal tumors, gastrointestinal stromal tumor surgery is the preferred treatment.
If your tumor(s) are small, your general surgeon can remove them by making small incisions in the skin and inserting cameras and instruments to remove the tumors and the tissue surrounding them.
These smaller incisions typically result in a shorter recovery time.
If your tumor is large, your surgeon may still choose to operate. However, in some cases, you may need to take a special drug for several months beforehand.
The goal of this medication is to shrink your tumor, making it easier to remove.
The same is true for stromal tumors that have metastasized. Your oncologist will prescribe medications intended to shrink and slow the growth of your tumors.
Then, your medical team will determine when and if surgery is appropriate.
Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor Surgery at Maryland Bariatrics
If you’ve been diagnosed with a GI stromal tumor, contact the professionals at Maryland Bariatrics to learn about your treatment options. Schedule a consultation or call our office at (301) 965-0546.