Blocked Intestine (Gastrointestinal [GI] Obstruction), ASCO's curriculum

This section has been reviewed and approved by the PLWC Editorial Board, 05/05

A blocked intestine occurs when a tumor prevents food and fluids from traveling through the gastrointestinal (GI) tract (stomach, intestines, or bowels). Normally, the intestines move food and fluids through the GI tract, and enzymes, fluids, and electrolytes help the body to absorb nutrients. In a GI obstruction, the food and fluids can't move through the system, and peristalsis (the normal contractions the intestines make to move the food) can cause intense pain. If left untreated, a GI obstruction is a serious and even life-threatening problem.

People with a GI obstruction may experience the following symptoms:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pain from the obstruction
  • Cramping from the movement of the intestine as it tries to move food along

GI obstructions most often occur in people with ovarian or colorectal cancers, but may occur in those with cancers of the stomach, uterus, prostate, or bladder as well.


GI obstructions can often be treated with surgery, where the surgeon operates and clears a path for the food to continue through the GI tract. In people who cannot have surgery, certain medications or procedures may help relieve the symptoms caused by a bowel obstruction:

  • Intravenous (IV) fluids
  • Use of a nasogastric tube, which is a tube that is inserted through the nose down to the stomach and is used for removing the contents of the stomach and preventing further pain
  • Use of a stent, which is an expandable tube placed into the site of the obstruction and may help food move more easily along the GI tract
  • Medications, including those to stop nausea and vomiting, steroids to stop inflammation, pain medications, and octreotide (Sandostatin)

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