Surgery for a blocked bowel (bowel obstruction)
Sometimes as the bowel cancer grows it completely blocks the bowel. This is called a bowel obstruction.
Waste matter cannot pass through the blocked bowel easily, and may cause:
- bloating and abdominal pain
- nausea and vomiting.
Sometimes the obstruction is found and cleared during the surgery to remove the cancer. In other cases, you will need emergency surgery to clear the blockage. If a section of the bowel needs to be removed, it may be possible to rejoin the bowel during the surgery, but some people may need a stoma. Sometimes a stoma is made “upstream” from the obstruction to relieve the blockage and to allow time for staging scans of the cancer or chemoradiation before surgery.
Having a stent
If only one area of the bowel is blocked or you are not fit enough for major bowel surgery, you may have a small hollow tube (stent) put in to help keep the bowel open and relieve symptoms. A stent may be permanent or it can be used to help manage the blockage until you are fit enough to have a colectomy or resection. The stent is inserted through the rectum using a colonoscope.
Preventing bowel blockages
A dietitian can suggest ways to avoid bowel blockages: for some people this may mean adding more fibre to the diet to help food or waste pass through the blockage or stent more easily. Other people may be advised to eat low-fibre foods. Talk to a dietitian about suitable foods for your situation.
If you are unable to have bowel surgery or a stent, you may be given medicine to help control the symptoms of a bowel obstruction.
Podcast: Coping with a Cancer Diagnosis
A/Prof David A Clark, Senior Colorectal Surgeon, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, QLD, The University of Queensland and The University of Sydney; Yvette Adams, Consumer; Dr Cameron Bell, Gastroenterologist, Royal North Shore Hospital, NSW; Katie Benton, Advanced Dietitian Cancer Care, Sunshine Coast University Hospital and Queensland Health, QLD; John Clements, Consumer; Dr Fiona Day, Medical Oncologist, Calvary Mater Newcastle, NSW; Alana Fitzgibbon, Clinical Nurse Consultant, GastroIntestinal Cancers, Cancer Services, Royal Hobart Hospital, TAS; Prof Alexander Heriot, Consultant Colorectal Surgeon, Director Cancer Surgery, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, and Director, Lower GI Tumour Stream, Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre, VIC; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Dr Kirsten van Gysen, Radiation Oncologist, Nepean Cancer Care Centre, NSW.
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