Radiation therapy is not often recommended as the primary form of GIST (gastrointestinal stromal tumor) treatment, mainly because it remains unclear whether these uncommon tumors are resistant to radiation. Additionally, the gastrointestinal location and typical cancer spread patterns would necessitate a high level of radiation exposure to healthy tissue and organs in the abdominal region.
When possible, complete surgical resection is the preferred method of treatment for removable tumors. Nonremovable GISTs may be treated with tyrosine kinase inhibitors, which are drugs that block the growth and division of cancer cells. However, some patients benefit from GIST radiation therapy because it can sometimes control the growth and spread of an inoperable tumor and alleviate the associated symptoms, such as intestinal obstructions.
At Moffitt Cancer Center, each patient’s treatment is planned by a multispecialty team of experts that includes highly experienced radiation oncologists who focus exclusively on treating gastrointestinal cancers. Using high-tech imaging equipment, the Moffitt team obtains images of the area to be treated, then uses those images to carefully plan a patient’s treatment. Precise measurements are taken, and exact angles are determined to ensure pinpoint accuracy in the delivery of high-energy beams to target a GIST while minimizing exposure to surrounding healthy tissue.
GIST radiation therapy can be delivered via:
External beam radiation therapy – High-energy rays are sent via a machine called a linear accelerator located outside a patient’s body.
Brachytherapy – Small radioactive pellets are placed at or near a cancer site (also known as internal beam radiation therapy).
Intensity modulated radiation therapy – This high-precision form of radiotherapy utilizes computer-controlled linear accelerators to deliver exact dosages to a GIST.
Novalis® radiosurgery – This method precisely shapes a radiation beam and uses imaging guidance to target a GIST while avoiding exposure to surrounding healthy tissues.
As a result of our extensive research efforts, Moffitt’s Gastrointestinal Oncology Program is credited with making landmark discoveries of GIST treatments, including radiation therapy delivery techniques. Our goal is to help our patients benefit from our laboratory breakthroughs as quickly as possible, and one way we achieve this is through our unique bench-to-side approach. Whatever we discover through our robust clinical trials program, we promptly use to improve the quality of life of every patient we treat.