When it comes to managing Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor (GIST), a rare cancer and a type of soft tissue sarcoma, taking the right foods and supplements matters. While a diet including foods/supplements such as turmeric/curcumin, Vitamin B12, oats, cabbage, bamboo and avocado may be beneficial for Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor (GIST) in alleviating the symptoms and improving specific treatment outcomes, avoid consumption of obesity-causing foods such as red meat, processed meat, sugary beverages and fried foods, and other foods like milk, bell pepper, tarragon, corn and peppermint. One should also avoid taking supplements such as arginine, glutamine, omega-3-fatty acids, coconut, carrot, fenugreek, honeysuckle and nutmeg while facing GIST, unless suggested by a healthcare professional. Hence, a personalized nutrition plan customized for the specific cancer type and treatment becomes important while managing cancers such as Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor (GIST).
Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor (GIST)
Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor or GIST is a rare soft tissue sarcoma which starts in specialized nerve cells located in the walls of the gastrointestinal/digestive tract. The rate of incidence of this cancer is low with only about 1 case per 1,00,000 people per year (Jonathan B Yuval and Ram Elazary., Obes Surg., 2018) . GIST covers less than 1% of all gastrointestinal tumors and 5% of all sarcomas. However, it is also the most common mesenchymal tumor of the gastrointestinal tract. (Xiaohui Zhao et al, J Gastrointest Oncol., 2012)
According to the American Cancer Society, the number of GIST cases diagnosed every year in the United States ranges between 4000 and 6000. It is more common in Asian or African Americans as compared to Caucasians. In people diagnosed with gastrointestinal stromal tumor, a change in the oncogene called KIT is usually found. Men are more commonly diagnosed with GIST than women.
Risk Factors of Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor (GIST)
Some of the known risk factors for gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GISTs) include:
- Age : This cancer is common in those aged above 50 and usually do not occur before the age of 40.
- Inherited genetic conditions such as :
- Primary familial GIST syndrome caused by an abnormal KIT gene
- Neurofibromatosis type 1 (von Recklinghausen disease) caused by a defect in a gene called NF1
- Carney-Stratakis syndrome caused by a change in the gene called SDH.
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Symptoms of Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor (GIST)
Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor grows very slowly. Hence, in the initial stages when the size of the GIST tumors are small, it may not show any signs or symptoms. As the disease progresses, Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor (GIST) may start showing symptoms.
Some of the common signs and symptoms of Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor (GIST) are:
- Bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract – blood in stool or vomit
- Lump in the abdomen
- Unexplained weight loss
- Lack of appetite
- High fever
- Abdominal pain
- Swallowing difficulties
- Night sweats
Treatment Options for Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor
The treatment for GIST may depend on a number of factors such as the size of the tumor, extent of spread or the stage of the tumor, medical history of the patient, general health and so on. Large GISTs which are asymptomatic are usually removed by surgery unless multiple organs and tissues are involved. Targeted therapies are also commonly used for the treatment of GIST.
Other treatment options for cancer include chemotherapy, however, in GISTs, chemotherapy may not be able to shrink the tumor well.
Diet/Foods/Supplements associated with Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor (GIST)
Turmeric/Curcumin may be beneficial for Cancers expressing c-Kit gene such as Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor
Curcumin is an active ingredient of the curry spice Turmeric. c-Kit is an oncogene found in more than 95% of GIST patients. A case report published in 2016 highlighted that a patient who was diagnosed with a type of cancer which expressed c-kit (Adenoid cystic carcinoma) was treated with a combination of imatinib and intravenous curcumin and showed great clinical outcomes (anatomic and complete metabolic response). (M Demiray et al, Complement Ther Med., 2016)
Based on the findings from this study, Curcumin seems to be beneficial for gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST) too, being a cancer expressing c-kit oncogene with Imatinib as one of the approved treatments.
Hence, turmeric may be added as part of the diet when facing GIST.
Obesity Causing foods may increase the risk of Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor (GIST)
In a study done by the researchers from the Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center, Israel highlighted that those who underwent Laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy, a surgical weight-loss procedure, had a higher risk of GIST, possibly due to an association between these tumors and obesity. (Jonathan B Yuva et al, Obes Surg., 2014)
Hence, when facing GIST, avoid taking obesity causing foods such as :
- Red meat
- Processed meat
- Sugary beverages
- Fried foods
- Fast Food
A case report published in 2012 elaborated on a GIST patient who initially underwent surgery followed by Imatinib treatment and complained of high anxiety and weakness related to anemia (due to Vitamin B12 deficiency) a few months later. The study found that Vitamin B12 supplementation in this GIST patient reduced the symptoms of anxiety and weakness. (Carles Pericay Pijaume and Eugeni Saigi Grau, Anticancer Drugs., 2012)
Arginine, Glutamine, and Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation may not be beneficial for GIST patients
A clinical study done by the researchers from the Kaohsiung Medical University in Taiwan evaluated data from 34 patients with Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor (GIST) who were undergoing surgery and received perioperative enteral nutrition (intake of food via the gastrointestinal (GI) tract) enriched with nutrients including arginine, glutamine, and omega-3 fatty acids. The study didn’t find any significant improvement in the immunomodulation effect in GIST patients when using arginine, glutamine, and omega-3 fatty acid supplements as compared to the standard enteral nutrition. (C Ma et al, J Postgrad Med., 2018)
Other Foods Associated with GIST
- When patients undergo surgery which involves the small intestine, they may start showing symptoms of lactose intolerance, which in some cases may also be temporary. However, this may lead to indigestion and abdominal pain. Hence, GIST patients should avoid foods like milk and milk products.
- Foods such as oats containing dietary fibers may be beneficial for GIST patients with gastrointestinal problems. Folate and fiber-rich cabbage may also help improve digestive health in GIST patients. Foods such as bamboo and low amounts of avocado may also be beneficial for GIST patients.
- Not all foods that are usually considered healthy may be right for GIST. For GIST, avoid taking high amounts of foods like Bell pepper, Tarragon, Corn and Peppermint. Also, avoid intake of high concentrated forms or supplements of Coconut, Carrot, Fenugreek, Honeysuckle and Nutmeg when facing GIST.
When it comes to facing cancers such as gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST), following a diet with the right food and supplements matters. While a diet including foods/supplements such as turmeric or curcumin, Vitamin B12, oats, cabbage, bamboo and avocado may be beneficial for Gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST), consumption of obesity causing foods, milk, Bell pepper, Tarragon, Corn and Peppermint may not help. Also, avoid taking supplements such as arginine, glutamine, omega-3-fatty acids, coconut, carrot, fenugreek, honeysuckle and nutmeg while facing GIST, unless suggested by your healthcare professional.
What food you eat and which supplements you take is a decision you make. Your decision should include consideration of the cancer gene mutations, which cancer, ongoing treatments and supplements, any allergies, lifestyle information, weight, height and habits.
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Cancer patients often have to deal with different chemotherapy side effects which affect their quality of life and look out for alternative therapies for cancer. Taking the right nutrition and supplements based on scientific considerations (avoiding guesswork and random selection) is the best natural remedy for cancer and treatment related side-effects.