Clinique mutualiste Eugéne-André, Lyon, et Centre Léon-Bérard, 28, rue Laennec, 69008 Lyon.
Gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GIST) are rare tumors occuring at all levels of the gastrointestinal tract, whose estimated incidence may be close to 2 new cases per 100 000 persons per year. GIST derive from the interstital cells of Cajal (ICC) responsible for the motility of the GI tract, or from a common precursor of ICC and of the smooth muscle cells of the digestive tract. GIST cells express the c-kit protoconcogene under an activated form, either mutated or constitutively activated, as well as the CD34 Ag. Mutations of the KIT gene is an early event in the process of transformation in these tumors. Until recently, GIST were not recognized as a distinct entity among soft tissue sarcoma. It is now clear that conventional chemotherapy is generally inactive in this tumor, surgery being the only efficient therapeutic modality even in patients with advanced disease. Rapidly accruing phase I, II and III trials in the USA and Europe (EORTC) have demonstrated since 2000 that imatinib mesylate (STI571) is an active agent in GIST with an initial response rate of 70 % and 10 % only of primary refractory tumors, yelding an improved overall survival as compared to historical series. Resistance are now being observed however. GIST has become the first model of a solid tumor treated efficiently by a treatment targetting the initial genetic alteration of the disease. Numerous question regarding the integration of this treatment with surgery and the long term outcome of these patients still remain to be answered however.