Symptom Management, Palliative Care, or Supportive Care to relieve side-effects is an important part of cancer care and treatment and should always form part of the overall treatment plan.

Gastrointestinal (GI) obstructions are most common with ovarian or colorectal cancers, but individuals with cancers of the bladder, prostate, stomach, uterus, or other cancers may also experience this side effect.

The intestines normally move food and fluids through the GI tract (including the stomach, intestines, and bowel), and enzymes, electrolytes, and fluids help the body absorb nutrients during this process. In an individual with a GI obstruction, food and fluids cannot move through the system, and the normal contractions (peristalsis) that the intestines make to move the food can cause intense pain.

A GI obstruction is a serious and even life-threatening problem if not treated so it is really important that you know the symptoms and consult your child’s doctor or treatment team immediately if her or she is experiencing any GI problems.


Relieving side effects is an important part of total cancer care and treatment, which is why you should discuss any symptoms your child is experiencing, new symptoms and changes in symptoms with their Oncology Team so that they can work out a regimen of palliative or supportive care for them.

Individuals with a GI obstruction may experience the following symptoms:

  • Cramping from the movement of the intestine as it tries to move food along
  • Inability to have a bowel movement or pass gas, despite an urge to do so
  • Nausea and vomiting – sometimes the vomit may contain food, drinks, or medications that were ingested more than several hours before the vomiting
  • Pain from the obstruction – they may feel better after vomiting


Treatment for a GI obstruction depends on the cause:

  • GI obstructions are often treated with surgery to clear a path for the food to continue through the GI tract.
  • Where a GI obstruction is caused by stool (faeces) that has become hard and difficult to pass, enemas and other options to loosen and/or soften the stool may be used
  • Where the obstruction is as the result of the twisting of bowel that can be reversed, your child’s health care team may recommend that they rest the GI tract by not eating or drinking per mouth for a few days but rather receive intravenous feedings to make sure they stay hydrated.
  • A nasogastric tube (a tube that is inserted through the nose down to the stomach) may also be used to remove the contents of the stomach and prevent further pain
  • A stent (an expandable tube) may be place into the site of the obstruction to help food move more easily through the GI tract
  • The doctor may also elect to give your child medication to address nausea and vomiting, diarrhoea, inflammation, or pain.