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Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors

UC San Diego Health is the regional leader in the treatment of gastrointestinal stromal tumors, also called GIST or gastric sarcomas. Although these tumors are rare, our center is one of the few on the West Coast that sees a high volume of patients with this disease. UC San Diego researchers have made important findings about the epidemiology of GISTs, including survival trends and the types of populations most at risk.

GIST Clinician of the Year

Surgical oncologist Jason Sicklick was named 2016 Clinician of the Year by the Life Raft Group, a GIST advocacy organization.

Our team of specialists includes Jason Sicklick, MD, a surgical oncologist who specializes in minimally invasive gastric resections of GIST, as well as medical, surgical and radiation oncologists who specialize in gastrointestinal cancers or sarcomas.

About GIST

GIST tumors are found throughout the gastrointestinal tract. They originate from the so-called "pacemaker" cells that signal muscles to contract and move food and liquid along the digestive tract. Most of these tumors occur in the stomach, but they can also occur in the small intestine, colon, rectum or esophagus. Learn more about GIST in our Health Library.


At UC San Diego Health, people with suspected GIST are evaluated by a multidisciplinary team that includes a surgical oncologist, medical oncologist, pathologist, radiologist, and gastroenterologist with expertise in GIST, as recommended by National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) and European Society of Medical Oncology (ESMO) guidelines.

In order to obtain an accurate diagnosis and determine optimal treatment, your doctor will perform a thorough evaluation that includes imaging and biopsy (unless biopsy will not change the decision to operate). Imaging methods may include:

  • Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS)
  • Computed tomography (CT) with contrast enhancement
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Positron emission tomography (PET)


Although surgery is the most common treatment for GIST, our team uses a multidisciplinary approach and considers several factors, including:

  • Number of tumors
  • Size
  • Location
  • Involvement of adjacent organs
  • Proximity to critical structures
  • Patient's symptoms
  • Patient's overall health

If surgery is recommended, our team is experienced in both open and minimally invasive procedures to remove GIST tumors, including laporoscopic and laparo-endoscopic resections.

Traditional chemotherapy has not been effective in treating patients with gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GIST), but your physician may recommend a class of drugs called tyrosine kinase inhibitors, which include Gleevec, Sutent and Stivarga. These drugs block the signal from the cell surface into the cell interior and have become the first-line medical treatment for metastatic, unresectable, or recurrent GIST.

Working with our Center for Personalized Cancer Therapy, we can perform genomic testing to match each patient with the best treatment for their particular type of tumors.

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