Intestinal obstruction

• Tumours that press on or spread to the bowel can cause intestinal obstruction. The symptoms depend on where the blockage is, but may include nausea, cramping pain, vomiting and abdominal swelling. Bowel obstruction is a common problem for women with advanced ovarian cancer.

• To relieve the condition at first, you may be given fluids by intravenous drip. The build up of stomach and bowel contents above the obstruction can be reduced using gentle suction through a nasogastric tube, which is passed through the nose into the stomach.

• It may be possible to remove the blocked part of bowel surgically, or to bypass it by joining one part of the bowel to another. Alternatively, an obstruction may be bypassed with an ileostomy or colostomy, which involves making an opening or stoma in the wall of the abdomen. The contents of the bowel can then be collected in a bag worn outside the abdomen.

• Chemotherapy, which involves using drugs to attack the cancer cells, can sometimes gradually shrink the tumour and relieve the blockage.

• Often it is not possible to remove or shrink the tumour, so the effects of the obstruction have to be managed with medications. You may be given fluid through a fine plastic tube that is inserted under the skin. You may be able to continue to drink small amounts of high-protein and high-calorie drinks.