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What Is Sunitinib Used For?

Using Sunitinib for Gastrointestinal Cancer

Sunitinib is approved to treat a rare cancer of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract known as gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST). GISTs occur most often in the stomach or small intestines, but can start anywhere in the GI tract.
GIST starts when cells found in the wall of the GI tract, called interstitial cells of Cajal (ICC), begin to grow out of control. ICC are considered the "pacemaker" of the GI tract, because they send out signals that cause the smooth muscle in the digestive tract to contract. This contraction causes food and liquid to move through the GI tract.
GIST is a cancer of middle and older age. It rarely occurs in people younger than 40 years old. It is different from other cancers of the GI tract in that it starts in different types of cells, and is generally treated differently.
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, metastatic GIST, which is when the cancer cells have spread to other areas of the body, is usually treated with medications. Drugs are used to slow the growth of the cancer cells and slow disease progression, not to get rid of the cancer.
Most people are given a medicine called imatinib (Gleevec®) first. Sunitinib is approved for use in people who did not adequately respond to imatinib or cannot take imatinib.

How Does It Work?

Sunitinib works by blocking an enzyme in the body known as tyrosine kinase. This enzyme tells cancer cells to grow and divide. By blocking tyrosine kinase, sunitinib may slow or stop the growth of cancer cells, which can slow down how quickly the disease progresses. Sunitinib does not rid the body of cancer cells.
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