Malignant bowel obstruction (MBO) is a frequent complication in advanced cancer patients, especially in those with abdominal tumors. Clinical management of MBO requires a specific and individualized approach that is based on disease prognosis and the objectives of care. The global prevalence of MBO is estimated to be 3% to 15% of cancer patients. Surgery should always be considered for patients in the initial stages of the disease with a preserved general status and a single level of occlusion. Less invasive approaches such as duodenal or colonic stenting should be considered when surgery is contraindicated in obstructions at the single level. The priority of care for inoperable and consolidated MBO is to control symptoms and promote the maximum level of comfort possible. The spontaneous resolution of an inoperable obstructive process is observed in more than one third of patients. The mean survival is of no longer than 4-5 weeks in patients with consolidated MBO. Polymodal medical treatment based on a combination of glucocorticoids, strong opioids, antiemetics, and antisecretory drugs achieves very high symptomatic control. This review focuses on the epidemiological aspects, diagnosis, surgical criteria, medical management, and factors influencing the spontaneous resolution of MBO in advanced cancer patients.
Keywords: bowel occlusion; cancer; intestinal obstruction; malignant bowel obstruction.