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Small intestine

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Treatment of sarcoma of the small intestine

Most small intestine sarcomas are gastrointestinal stromal tumours (GISTs). The following are treatment options for gastrointestinal stromal tumours (GISTs)of the small intestine. The types of treatments done depend on:

  • the stage and location of the GIST in the small intestine
  • whether the entire tumour can be completely removed by surgery (resectable) or not (unresectable)

The types of treatments given are based on the unique needs of the person with cancer.


Surgery is the primary treatment for localized GISTs in the small intestine that are considered to be completely resectable. Different types of surgery may be done depending on where the GIST is in the small intestine. GISTs rarely spread to the lymph nodes, so removing the lymph node is rarely done.

Biological therapy

Biological therapy may be offered for advanced, unresectable or metastatic GISTs. The types of biological therapies offered are:

  • imatinib (Gleevec)
    • Imatinib is a cancer growth inhibitor. It blocks the growth factors that make cancer cells grow.
    • Sometimes imatinib is used to try and shrink a tumour if doctors think it could be removed with surgery once it gets smaller. In some cases, imatinib may be used after surgery (adjuvant therapy) in people at high risk of recurrence.
  • sunitinib (Sutent)
    • Sunitinib works like an anti-angiogenesis drug that stops new blood vessels from forming. It also works as a cancer growth inhibitor.
    • Sunitinib may be used when the cancer does not respond to imatinib or the person can’t tolerate imatinib.

Radiation therapy

Radiation is not very effective in treating GISTs, so it is rarely used. Occasionally, external beam radiation therapy may be offered to relieve pain or to control the bleeding or other symptoms of advanced disease (palliative radiation therapy).

Clinical trials

People with small intestine cancer may be offered the opportunity to participate in clinical trials. For more information, go to clinical trials.


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