Background: Intestinal obstruction commonly occurs in progressive advanced gynaecological and gastrointestinal cancers. Management of these patients is difficult due to the patients deteriorating mobility and function (performance status), the lack of further chemotherapeutic options and the high mortality and morbidity associated with palliative surgery. There are marked variations in clinical practice concerning surgery in these patients between different countries, gynaecological oncology units, and general hospitals as well as referral patterns from oncologists under whom these patients are often admitted under. There is therefore a need for all the present information to be collated, analysed (with appropriate palliative care outcomes) to establish if surgery is of benefit and what further research is needed.
Objectives: The objective was to locate, appraise and summarise evidence from scientific studies on intestinal obstruction due to advanced gynaecological and gastrointestinal cancer, in order to assess the efficacy of surgery.
Search strategy: A comprehensive list of studies was provided by an extensive search of electronic databases, relevant journals, bibliographic databases, conference proceedings, reference lists, the grey literature, personal contact and the world wide web.
Selection criteria: As the review concentrates on the 'best evidence' available of the role of surgery in malignant bowel obstruction in advanced gynaecological and gastrointestinal cancer the inclusion criteria were kept broad (included both prospective and retrospective studies) so as to include all studies relevant to the question.
Data collection and analysis: Data extraction forms were used to collect data from the studies included in the review. Two researchers extracted the data independently to reduce error. Due to the methodological quality of the studies, only a qualitative assessment was possible.
Main results: The role of surgery in malignant bowel obstruction remains controversial, and no firm conclusions from the many retrospective case series can be made. Control of symptoms varies from 42% to over 80%, though it is often unclear how symptoms were measured and whether the tools used to collect symptom scores are validated. There is a large range in the rates of re-obstruction, from 10-50%, though time to re-obstruction was often not included. There is a wide range of postoperative morbidity and mortality, although again the definition of both these surgical outcomes varied between many of the papers.
Reviewer's conclusions: The role of surgery in malignant bowel obstruction needs careful evaluation, using validated outcome measures of symptom control and quality of life scores. Further information would include re-obstruction rates together with the morbidity associated with the various surgical procedures. Currently, bowel obstruction is managed empirically, and there are marked variations in clinical practice by different units. There needs to be a greater standardisation of management so that comparisons between different series can be made.