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Surgical Removal of Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors (GIST)

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Our nationally known surgical team, which specializes in operating on gastrointestinal stromal tumors, offers the most advanced options to treat your cancer. If you have an early-stage, localized tumor, you many be able to be treated with surgery alone. However, if your GIST has progressed and spread, you may receive a combination of surgery and chemotherapy treatments.

Most patients with a gastrointestinal stromal tumor present with a single tumor. About 70 percent of those patients can be cured with surgery alone, while the other 30 percent develop a recurrence.

Several factors determine whether a GIST can be removed:

  • If your GIST is metastatic, meaning it has spread, we might want to treat you medically first (with chemotherapy treatment) to shrink your tumor before operating.
  • Your general health should be good enough to be able to have general anesthesia, as well as undergo a surgical procedure.
  • If your GIST is located near certain vital structures, it may not be able to be surgically removed.

Surgical Removal of Localized Primary GISTs

If you have a primary localized GIST, meaning your cancer has not spread from the area in which it originated, we may suggest one of these surgical options:

  • Partial gastrectomy - removal of part of your stomach
  • Partial intestine resection - removal of part of your intestine
  • Abdominoperineal resection - removal of your rectum and anus
  • Whipple procedure (Pancreaticoduodenectomy) - a procedure in which part of your pancreas, a small part of your intestine and sometimes part of your stomach, bile duct, and gallbladder are removed

Preparing for Surgery to Remove a GIST

We will prepare you for your operation, including telling you when to stop eating, drinking and taking certain medications before surgery. You’ll receive a routine blood test, an electrocardiogram and a chest X-ray before undergoing general anesthesia.

If you are older or have certain medical conditions, we may also refer you to a cardiologist to ensure you are healthy enough to have an operation. You may have a stress test or an echocardiogram.

Recovery After the Surgical Removal of a GIST

The vast majority of patients with localized primary GISTs can expect to regain their quality of life after their tumor is removed.

Generally, you’ll stay in the hospital for seven to 10 days after surgery to remove a GIST. You can expect to be able to sit in a chair, and in most cases walk, within 24 hours of surgery. Eating can also resume within a few days.

Recovery from surgery to remove GISTs generally takes three to six weeks. You should avoid lifting heavy objects for several months to ensure your incision heals. It can take up to a year for it to completely heal.

Loss of appetite is common immediately after surgery, and your appetite should return within a few weeks. If a large part of your stomach is removed, you may need to alter your diet and consume more frequent, smaller meals.

If a large part of your small or large intestines is removed as part of your surgery, you may experience diarrhea. Some patients require a colostomy after tumor removal.