Leukemia Home > Gleevec Uses
Using Gleevec for Gastrointestinal CancerGleevec 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.