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Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors (GISTs)

UC San Diego Health is the regional leader in the treatment of gastrointestinal stromal tumors, also called GISTs 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.

Drs. Fanta, Sicklick, Burgoyne and Mallory

UC San Diego Health clinicians (from left, Paul Fanta, MD, Jason Sicklick, MD, Adam Burgoyne, MD, PhD, and Robert Mallory, PAC) celebrate GIST Awareness Day at Moores Cancer Center.

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

About GISTs

GISTs can be 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 GISTs in our Health Library.

Evaluation and Diagnosis

At UC San Diego Health, people with suspected GISTs are evaluated by a team that includes a surgical oncologist, medical oncologist, pathologist, radiologist and gastroenterologist with expertise in GISTs, 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)

Treatment Planning

Although surgery is the most common treatment for GISTs,  your treatment plan is tailored to your unique cancer, based on factors including:

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

In addition, genomic and molecular testing at our Center for Personalized Cancer Therapy may be recommended to further refine your care plan.

Advanced Treatment Options

Your UC San Diego Health physicians offer the full spectrum of treatment options to effectively treat your cancer, including:

  • Minimally invasive GIST resections, including laparoscopic and laparo-endoscopic resections
  • Organ-sparing resections to remove localized tumors
  • Multi-visceral resections to remove locally advanced tumors
  • Cytoreductive surgery for metastatic GISTs
  • Systemic therapy with oral tyrosine kinase inhibitors. These drugs have become the first-line medical treatment for metastatic, unresectable, or recurrent GISTs.
  • Promising investigational therapies through clinical trials participation
  • Microwave (thermal) ablation

Appointments & Referrals


La Jolla

Meet Our Specialists

GIST Clinician of the Year

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

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