How is bowel obstruction treated in ovarian cancer?

Updated: Aug 10, 2020
  • Author: Andrew E Green, MD; Chief Editor: Yukio Sonoda, MD  more...
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Bowel obstruction is a common terminal effect of progressive ovarian cancer. Rectosigmoid obstruction in the face of progressive disease is best palliated with a transverse loop colostomy. Often, a small incision at the stoma site is all that is necessary to identify the dilated proximal colon and to elevate it through the anterior abdominal wall. The stoma starts to function immediately, and patients can eat and return to their baseline functional status soon.

Cecostomy tube placement can be used to vent the large intestine in colonic obstruction. However, cecostomy sites are prone to recurrent obstruction from solid stool and tube placement is most appropriate in those patients with extremely short life expectancies.

Small-bowel obstruction is more challenging. Multiple areas of partial small bowel obstruction are typically not amenable to surgical correction. Tumor implants on the bowel surface and mesentery cause adhesions and impede peristalsis. Infrequently, an isolated small bowel obstruction can be managed with bowel resection and reanastomosis. More commonly, palliation is achieved with a percutaneous gastrostomy tube draining by gravity or with a nasogastric tube on suction.

Medical management may also be beneficial. A somatostatin analog to decrease gastrointestinal secretions can be combined with erythromycin to improve motility in the management of small bowel obstruction.

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