Current concepts in malignant bowel obstruction management

Curr Oncol Rep. 2009 Jul;11(4):298-303. doi: 10.1007/s11912-009-0042-2.


Malignant bowel obstruction (MBO) is a challenging complication of advanced cancer. Several pathophysiologic mechanisms are responsible for the syndrome, including mechanical compression, motility disorders, gastrointestinal secretion accumulation, decreased gastrointestinal absorption, and inflammation. The treatment of related symptoms requires a collaborative approach of surgical, interventional, and medical specialists. The surgical approach proves beneficial in selected patients with operable lesions, life expectancy greater than 2 months, and good performance status. Interventionalists place self-expanding metallic stents as a minimally invasive palliative method either as a definitive treatment or as a bridge to surgery. However, most patients with MBO are not candidates for surgery or stent placement. Medical management with opioids, antispasmodics, antiemetics, antisecretory agents, and corticosteroids is effective in controlling the symptoms associated with MBO. This article discusses the current understanding of MBO pathophysiology and emphasizes current MBO management concepts; it then reviews surgical, interventional, and medical approaches.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Digestive System Surgical Procedures
  • Gastrointestinal Agents / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Obstruction / complications
  • Intestinal Obstruction / physiopathology
  • Intestinal Obstruction / therapy*
  • Neoplasms / complications
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Palliative Care / methods
  • Stents
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Gastrointestinal Agents