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Using Gleevec for Gastrointestinal Cancer

Gleevec is approved to treat a rare cancer of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract known as gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST). GIST occurs most often in the stomach or small intestines, but can start anywhere in the GI tract. This should not be confused with other, more common types of GI cancers. GIST starts in different types of cells and is generally treated differently.
 
GIST starts when cells in the wall of the GI tract, called interstitial cells of Cajal (ICC), begin to grow out of control. ICC are considered the "pacemakers" of the GI tract, because they send out signals that tell the smooth muscle in the digestive tract to contract. This contraction moves food and liquid through the GI tract.
 
The most common treatment for GIST is surgery to remove the tumors. If the tumors are small, surgery may be the only treatment needed. However, the tumors may grow back (recur) after surgery. Also, cancer cells that have spread to other areas of the body (metastasized) will need to be treated with medications.
 
Gleevec is approved to treat GIST that cannot be treated with surgery or is metastatic. It is also approved to prevent recurrence of the disease after treatment with surgery. In studies, Gleevec helped prevent the return of cancer for an average of 14 months. Studies have not looked at the long-term effects of the drug on cancer recurrence.
 

How Does It Work?

Gleevec works by blocking an enzyme in the body known as tyrosine kinase. This enzyme tells cancer cells to grow and multiply. When this enzyme is blocked, the cancer cells stop growing, or grow more slowly, which can slow down the progression of the disease.
 

Can Children Use It?

Gleevec is approved for use in children who are newly diagnosed with CML or ALL. It has not been studied in children younger than age one. Gleevec has been reported to stunt the growth of children, and the long-term effects on a child's growth are unknown. Talk to your child's healthcare provider about the risks and benefits of using Gleevec in children.
 
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Kristi Monson, PharmD;
Last updated/reviewed:
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