We are living in an exciting era in the treatment of cancer, using drugs that target specific proteins rather than agents that cause more general cytotoxic effects. The identification of proteins and signal transduction pathways that play crucial roles in the pathogenesis of cancer has allowed treatments to be designed that target these tumor-driven events. Gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GIST) are rare mesenchymal tumors and were among the first solid tumor types for which such a novel treatment (in this case imatinib) became available. The tyrosine kinase inhibitor imatinib targets the human KIT receptor and the platelet-derived growth factor receptor-alpha. This drug exhibits impressive antitumor effects against GIST and has become the first-line therapy for advanced disease. Major insights into the mechanism of action of this drug, drug resistance, and patient management issues have been gleaned. Additionally, new drugs developed for the treatment of GIST have been identified. As a consequence, lessons learned from GIST are widely applicable to other tumor entities, thereby rendering GIST the paradigm of solid tumors treated with tyrosine kinase inhibitors. This Review discusses the pathogenesis of GIST, treatment strategies, mechanisms accounting for drug resistance, and potential future perspectives.