Clinical-practice recommendations for the management of bowel obstruction in patients with end-stage cancer

Support Care Cancer. 2001 Jun;9(4):223-33. doi: 10.1007/s005200000198.


The paper highlights a series of questions that doctors need to consider when faced with end-stage cancer patients with bowel obstruction: Is the patient fit for surgery? Is there a place for stenting? Is it necessary to use a venting nasogastric tube (NGT) in inoperable patients? What drugs are indicated for symptom control, what is the proper route for their administration and which can be administered in association? When should a venting gastrostomy be considered? What is the role of total parenteral nutrition (TPN) and parenteral hydration (PH)? A working group was established to review issues relating to bowel obstruction in end-stage cancer and to make recommendations for management. A steering group was established by the (multidisciplinary) Board of Directors of the European Association for Palliative Care (EAPC) to select members of the expert panel, who were required to have specific clinical and research interests relating to the topic and to have published significant papers on advanced cancer patients in the last 5 years, or to have particular clinical expertise that is recognised internationally. The final constitution of this group was approved by the Board of the EAPC. This Working Group was made up of English, French and Italian physicians involved in the field of palliative care for advanced and terminal cancer patients; and of English, American and Italian surgeons who also specialized in artificial nutrition (Dr. Bozzetti) and a professor of health economics. We applied a systematic review methodology that showed the relative lack of RCTs in this area and the importance of retrospective and clinical reports from different authors in different countries. The brief was to review published data but also to provide clinical opinion where data were lacking. The recommendations reflect specialist clinical practice in the countries represented. Each member of the group was allocated a specific question and briefed to review the literature and produce a position paper on the indications, advantages and disadvantages of each symptomatic treatment. The position papers were circulated and then debated at a meeting held in Athens and attended by all panel members. The group reviewed all the available data, discussed the evidence and discussed what practical recommendations could be derived from it. An initial outline of the results of the review and recommendations was produced. Where there were gaps in the evidence, consensus was achieved by debate. Only unanimous conclusions have been incorporated. Subsequently the recommendations were drawn together by Carla Ripamonti (Chairperson) and Robert Twycross (Co-Chair) and refined with input from all panel members. The recommendations have been endorsed by the Board of Directors of the EAPC. It was concluded that surgery should not be undertaken routinely in patients with poor prognostic criteria, such as intra-abdominal carcinomatosis, poor performance status and massive ascites. A nasogastric tube should be used only as a temporary measure. Medical measures such as analgesics, anti-secretory drugs and anti-emetics should be used alone or in combination to relieve symptoms. A venting gastrostomy should be considered if drugs fail to reduce vomiting to an acceptable level. TPN should be considered only for patients who may die of starvation rather than from tumour spread. PH is sometimes indicated to correct nausea, whereas regular mouth care is the treatment of choice for dry mouth. A collaborative approach involving both surgeons and physicians can offer patients an individualized and appropriate symptom management plan.

Publication types

  • Guideline
  • Practice Guideline

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Intestinal Obstruction / etiology
  • Intestinal Obstruction / therapy*
  • Neoplasms / complications*
  • Palliative Care / standards*
  • Vomiting / therapy