While surgery is usually the main type of treatment for a GIST, chemotherapy can also be incorporated into a patient’s treatment plan. Chemotherapy drugs work by attacking rapidly growing cells within the body; this can help shrink gastrointestinal stromal tumors. However, traditional chemotherapy drugs can’t differentiate between cancerous cells and healthy cells that divide at an unusually fast rate. This can sometimes cause several uncomfortable side effects, such as nausea and hair loss. To help minimize damage to healthy cells, many oncologists prefer to use a newer type of treatment, known as targeted therapy, instead of traditional chemo.
While targeted medications are considered to be a form of GIST chemotherapy, these drugs target specific proteins that enable GIST cells to grow and divide. As a result, targeted medications can be more effective at shrinking gastrointestinal stromal tumors than traditional chemotherapy drugs, and can cause fewer side effects as well. Sometimes, however, a patient is not eligible for – or chooses not to –receive targeted therapy, in which case traditional GIST chemotherapy might be recommended as an alternative.
At Moffitt Cancer Center, our expert oncologists can help patients assess all of the treatment options available for their specific needs, and make an individualized recommendations based on:
- The size, extent and number of blood vessels in a GIST
- The rate at which a GIST is growing
- The likelihood that cancer will recur after the first round of treatment
- A tumor’s response to past treatments
- A patient’s ability to tolerate strong medications and any related side effects
In a single, convenient location, Moffitt provides a complete range of GIST treatments, including traditional chemotherapy, targeted therapies, radiation therapy and surgery. We also take an active role in ongoing GIST research, developing and testing new therapies on a continual basis.