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August 1995

Bowel Obstruction in Cancer Patients

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Surgery, University of Southern California (USC) School of Medicine, the USC/Kenneth Norris Jr Cancer Hospital, and the Los Angeles County+USC Medical Center, Los Angeles.

Arch Surg. 1995;130(8):832-837. doi:10.1001/archsurg.1995.01430080034004

Objective:  To examine the efficacy of various interventions on bowel obstruction occurring in patients with a history of cancer.

Design:  Retrospective case series.

Setting:  A university comprehensive cancer center.

Patients:  Sixty-one patients presenting with 81 episodes of intestinal obstruction.

Results:  Sixty-nine episodes of obstruction affected the small bowel, including 24 complete obstructions. There were 12 episodes of large-bowel obstruction, eight of which were complete. Five patients (8.2%) had concurrent small- and large-bowel obstruction. In 59 cases, the cause was established: 36 (61%) were due to metastatic tumor and 23 (39%) were due to benign conditions. Of the 49 episodes of partial bowel obstruction, 42 (86%) initially were treated medically. Nineteen (45%) of these 42 cases of obstruction resolved after 8.7±11.1 days (mean±SD) of conservative management. Twenty-two patients with partial obstruction were treated surgically, with relief of obstruction in 15 cases (68%). Of the 32 episodes of complete obstruction, 26 (81%) were initally managed conservatively; in only one case (3.8%) did obstruction resolve. Surgery successfully relieved the obstruction in 16 (76%) of 21 patients. Twenty-six patients received parenteral nutrition at home as the major treatment for obstruction; 22 (85%) experienced relief of nausea and vomiting. Patients with malignant obstructions survived 0 to 24 months (median, 4.7 months); the median survival for those treated surgically was 5.0 months.

Conclusions:  In patients with a history of cancer, partial obstruction (but not complete obstruction) frequently resolves with medical management. Surgical intervention relieves most cases of partial or complete obstruction regardless of benign or malignant cause, but survival often is limited in the latter group. The entire intestinal tract should be evaluated in all patients, since 8.2% of patients in this series had concurrent small- and large-bowel obstructions. Home parenteral nutrition often provides symptomatic palliation in patients not amenable to surgical relief.(Arch Surg. 1995;130:832-837)

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