GIST Specialist

Joshua Ellenhorn, M.D., FACS

Board Certified General Surgeon & Surgical Oncologist located in CEDARS SINAI MEDICAL TOWERS, LOS ANGELES, CA

GIST is short for gastrointestinal stromal tumor, a form of cancer that originates from nerves in your digestive tract. If you have any symptoms that could be due to GIST, Joshua Ellenhorn, MD, practicing in Beverly Grove nearby the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California, can help. Dr. Ellenhorn is a leading surgical oncologist who has expert skills in treating all forms of cancer, including GIST, using the latest minimally invasive laparoscopic and robotic techniques. Call today to find out more or book an appointment using the online form.


What is GIST?

A gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST) is a form of cancer that affects your digestive system, usually developing in the stomach and small intestine. A GIST forms from nerve cells in the walls of your digestive tract. These nerve cells help you digest your food. When you have a GIST, the cells in these nerves mutate, growing rapidly and not dying off as normal cells would.

GISTs could potentially affect anyone, but most cases occur in people over 50 and below 70.  

What symptoms does a GIST cause?

If you only have a small GIST, it might not be causing any symptoms. GISTs often grow so slowly, you wouldn’t be aware you had one for a long time. As the GIST gets bigger, it could start bleeding. You might then experience symptoms like vomiting blood or having bloody stools.

Other symptoms of GIST can include:

  • Anemia
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Difficulty swallowing

In some instances, you can feel the GIST in your abdomen if you press on it.

How is a GIST diagnosed?

To diagnose a GIST, Dr. Ellenhorn carries out a physical exam and reviews your medical history, along with your current symptoms. If GIST is a possible diagnosis, Dr. Ellenhorn orders tests to confirm. Possible tests for GIST include:

Contrast-enhanced computerized tomography (CT) scan
Before your CT scan, you drink a special liquid, or Dr. Ellenhorn gives you an injection that contains the contrast material. The contrast shows up on the CT scan, which helps Dr. Ellenhorn to see where the GIST is and calculate its size.

Upper endoscopy

An endoscope is a piece of equipment that has a light and a camera on it. Upper endoscopy is a minimally invasive procedure in which a gastroenterologist passes an endoscope down your throat to see the inside of your stomach and the start of your small intestine.

Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS)

EUS works in the same way as a regular upper endoscopy but uses an ultrasound probe as well. EUS helps Dr. Ellenhorn to assess the size and location of your GIST and see if it’s spreading anywhere else.

Dr. Ellenhorn might want to get a biopsy, extracting a small amount of tissue with a fine needle for testing in the laboratory.

How is a GIST treated?

Where possible, Dr. Ellenhorn removes your GIST using minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery, or robot-assisted surgery using the da Vinci® robotic system.

Larger GISTs can be treated with targeted medications called tyrosine kinase inhibitors. These medications can shrink the size of the GIST making surgical removal safer. Sometimes tyrosine kinase inhibitor medications are used following surgery to prevent the recurrence of GIST.

If you’re worried about gastrointestinal cancer or think you might have a GIST, call Joshua Ellenhorn, MD, today or book an appointment online.