Surgery for a blocked bowel (bowel obstruction)
Sometimes as the bowel cancer grows it completely blocks the bowel. This is called 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, the bowel obstruction will mean you have to have emergency surgery to clear the blockage.
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, to make sure the cancer is removed completely.
Not everyone with a blockage will want to have surgery or be fit enough to have it. To help keep the bowel open so that stools can pass through again, your surgeon may be able to insert a small hollow tube (stent) inside the colon. A stent may also help manage the blockage until you are well enough to have an operation. Your surgeon will use a colonoscope to find the blockage and place the stent.
If you are unable to have surgery or a stent, you may be given medicine to help control the symptoms of a bowel obstruction.
A/Prof Craig Lynch, Colorectal Surgeon, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Prof Tim Price, Medical Oncologist, The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Adelaide, and Clinical Professor, Faculty of Medicine, The University of Adelaide, SA; Department of Dietetics, Liverpool Hospital, NSW; Dr Hooi Ee, Gastroenterologist, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, WA; Dr Debra Furniss, Radiation Oncologist, Genesis CancerCare, QLD; Jocelyn Head, Consumer; Jackie Johnston, Palliative Care and Stomal Therapy Clinical Nurse Consultant, St Vincent’s Private Hospital, NSW; Zeinah Keen, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council NSW; Dr Elizabeth Murphy, Head, Colorectal Surgical Unit, Lyell McEwin Hospital, SA. We also thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
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