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Caregivers going over treatment options for patients with gastrointestinal stromal tumors.

Gastrointes­tinal Stromal Tumor (GIST)

Nausea. Pain. Trouble eating. Dark stools. You’ve had these symptoms for a while. Now, you’re starting to think they’re more than just heartburn or a sour stomach.

Symptoms like these can be signs of a gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST) — a rare condition that can start anywhere in your digestive system (gastrointestinal tract) but usually in your stomach or small intestine. Some of these tumors can be small and not harmful (benign). Others can be cancerous — growing large and spreading. That’s why it’s important to listen to your body and get help if something doesn’t seem right. 

Cleveland Clinic’s specialists are experienced with diagnosing and treating gastrointestinal stromal tumors. We’ll walk you through every step of diagnosis, treatment, recovery and follow-up. And because cancer treatment involves more than surgery or medications, you’ll also get all the caring support you need. From support groups to one-on-one counseling, we’ll stay by your side throughout your entire journey.

Why Choose Cleveland Clinic for Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor Care?

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Caring approach

We understand that GIST can affect many aspects of your life. We offer ways to help you learn about your condition and support you throughout diagnosis, treatment and follow-up.

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Collaborative care:

Many different specialists will help manage and treat your gastrointestinal tumor. This expert team works together to make sure you get highly personalized care. Meet our team.

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Comprehensive treatment:

Gastrointestinal stromal tumor treatment depends on where the tumor is, if it’s spread and how slowly or quickly it’s growing. We offer personalized treatment options that fit your needs, including surgery, ablation, embolization and the latest targeted therapy. 

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Virtual visits:

Not feeling up to an in-person appointment? That’s OK. Our virtual visits are a great alternative for quick check-ins and follow-ups with your provider. All you need is an internet connection and smartphone, tablet or computer to connect.

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Innovation and research:

We do in-depth research to improve diagnosis, treatment and survival rates for people with all types of GI cancer, including GIST. Through our clinical trials, you may get access to the newest treatments before they’re widely available. 

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National recognition:

Cleveland Clinic is a trusted healthcare leader. We're recognized in the U.S. and throughout the world for our expertise and care.

Diagnosing Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors at Cleveland Clinic

A gastrointestinal stromal tumor grows when cells in your digestive system multiply out of control. You can get one anywhere in your GI tract — from your food tube (esophagus) to your anus.

A GIST can cause different symptoms in different people. You may have stomach pain, vomit or poop blood. You might not be hungry or be able to swallow food. Or, you might not have any symptoms at all. It depends on where the tumor is in your GI tract and how big it is. It’s important to pay attention to what your body’s telling you. And to share all of this with your healthcare providers.

What to expect at your first visit

At your first appointment, your provider will ask you to share what’s been happening and how you’re feeling. They’ll want to know:

  • What kind of symptoms you’re having.
  • How long you’ve had them.
  • If they’re getting worse.
  • How they’re affecting your life.
  • If you’ve had any other GI conditions.
  • If you’ve had any other kinds of cancer or tumors.
  • If anyone else in your family has had cancer.

You’ll also have a physical exam so your provider can look for noticeable GIST symptoms. And they’ll also likely order other tests to help them confirm a diagnosis, like:

Second opinions for gastrointestinal stromal tumor

When you’re diagnosed with a gastrointestinal stromal tumor, you may feel emotional and overwhelmed. And you’ll probably have a lot of questions. But one thing’s certain — you’ll want to be sure you get care from expert providers who understand how to treat this rare condition. That’s why we encourage second opinions. 

Getting a second opinion can make you feel more in control of your care. It can give you peace of mind knowing you have skilled, experienced providers taking care of you. When you come to us for a second opinion, we’ll help you better understand your diagnosis and go over the right treatment options for you. And because we know cancer doesn’t wait, we’ll try to meet with you as soon as possible. 

Meet Our Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor Team

Your Cleveland Clinic team includes experts from different specialties who work together to make sure you get the most personalized care. You may see:


Our healthcare providers see patients at convenient locations throughout Northeast Ohio, Florida and London.

Treating Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors at Cleveland Clinic

Because GIST affects everyone differently — and can grow in many different places — your treatment will be highly personalized.

You may have a small tumor that doesn’t need to be treated right away. So, we might do “watchful waiting” and keep a close eye on what’s going on. Or maybe your tumor’s more aggressive (fast-growing) and needs more in-depth treatment. Your care team will work with you to find the best treatments for your needs and unique diagnosis. 

Surgery, ablation and embolization

Surgery is the main treatment for gastrointestinal stromal tumors. Some GISTs can be treated very successfully by surgery if we can remove all of the tumor. The specific type of surgery depends on the size of the tumor and where it is in your GI tract.

We can also treat some GISTs with ablation and embolization. Ablation uses heat, cold or chemicals to destroy cancer cells. Embolization limits blood flow to the tumor to slow its growth.

Targeted therapy

Targeted therapy is a new treatment that uses medications to target certain characteristics of GIST cells — and destroy them. And it doesn’t damage your healthy cells like chemotherapy does. 

We may recommend targeted therapy before or after surgery. This can improve your chance of a successful outcome and lessen the chance of the cancer coming back (recurrence). We can also use targeted therapy without surgery to improve your symptoms and slow cancer growth. This therapy can cause certain side effects, so we’ll keep a close eye on you. Targeted therapy medications for GIST include:

Taking the Next Step

If you find out you have a gastrointestinal stromal tumor, you might have lots of questions and concerns about your diagnosis, treatment and long-term follow-up care. Our compassionate Cleveland Clinic providers are here to make sure you feel confident about moving forward with each step. Our team offers expert, personalized care and all the support you need — physically, emotionally and mentally — from day one. 

Getting an appointment with Cleveland Clinic’s gastrointestinal stromal tumor experts is easy. We’ll help you get the care you need.


Getting an appointment with Cleveland Clinic’s gastrointestinal stromal tumor experts is easy. We’ll help you get the care you need.

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