Gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GISTs) are the most common mesenchymal neoplasm arising in the stomach. These tumors were previously classified as smooth muscle tumors, but in recent years it has become clear that they are clinically, pathologically, and molecularly distinct from other tumors and are much more common than previously appreciated. Historically, patients with primary localized or advanced GIST have been managed surgically, as there was no proven role of other treatment modalities such as radiation or chemotherapy. However, the field of GIST was revolutionized with the 1998 discovery that the vast majority of these tumors have oncogenic gain-of-function mutations of the KIT receptor tyrosine kinase. Follow-up studies have confirmed that KIT is both a useful diagnostic marker and an excellent therapeutic target. Imatinib, an inhibitor of KIT kinase activity, is now the standard front-line therapy for patients with advanced GIST. In this review, we discuss pathological and molecular features of gastric GISTs and review the historic and current roles of surgery in the treatment of patients with primary or metastatic GIST. The importance of a multi-disciplinary approach using both surgery and imatinib therapy is emphasized.
Copyright 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc