Ways to Treat Colon Obstruction Due to Colon Cancer

If you have advanced colon cancer, you may not be receiving treatment that is intended to cure your disease. But this doesn't mean you aren't being treated at all. Many people live months, and even years, with advanced colon cancer.

For anyone in this situation, making sure their symptoms are well-managed is vitally important. Living well with advanced cancer is possible. It is one of the most important goals for anyone who has cancer that is not considered curable.

One possible side effect of advanced colon cancer is that the colon can become blocked by the tumor. This is called malignant obstruction. Fortunately, doctors can treat this problem with either surgery or placement of a stent. A stent is a slender tube that can be inserted inside a body part to provide support or create an opening.

Stent vs. Surgery for Malignant Obstruction

For a person whose colon is blocked due to a tumor, the decision of whether to get a full surgery or have a stent placed can be difficult to make. A stent can be placed more easily, often using laparoscopic surgery. Laparoscopic is minimally invasive surgery in which the surgeon does not need to make a full incision.

Because the incision for laparoscopic sugery is smaller, it is easier to recover from laparoscopic surgery than from regular surgery. Healing time is shorter too. But is getting a stent as effective for treating a colon obstruction as regular surgery?

Pros and Cons of Stents and Surgery

A new study aimed to answer just this question. Researchers studied 144 advanced colon cancer patients who had undergone treatment to address malignant colon obstruction. Approximately half of the patients had undergone regular surgery and half had a stent placed. The study authors followed this group to determine success and complication rates for each type of procedure, and found that:

  • The short term success rates for stents and regular surgery were not significantly different. Both procedures worked well in the short term to treat a blocked colon.
  • The group that received stents had approximately half the rate of early complications as the surgery group (15.5% for stent vs. 32.9% for surgery)
  • The length of time that the blockage remained cured was shorter in the stent group; some of the people in the stent group required placement of a second stent.
  • The stent group had more late complications than the surgery group, which is expected given that the cure time for some people in the stent group was shorter.
  • In people who required a second stent, the duration of cure of the blockage after the second was similar to the surgery group.
  • The rate of major complications was the same in the two groups.

Making Your Best Treatment Choice

If you or a loved one is dealing with a colon (bowel) obstruction due to advanced colon cancer, you may have the choice of getting a stent or having regular surgery to address this symptom.

You will need to make the decision very quickly, because an obstruction is a serious medical problem that must be addressed quickly. But a quick decision doesn't have to be uninformed. This study suggests each method has benefits and risks you should consider.

A stent may be a quicker, easier fix for a blocked colon. However, your chances of needing another treatment to address a blocked colon are a little higher with a stent than if you get surgery the first time around. The downside of surgery is longer healing time and a higher likelihood of short term (immediately after the procedure) complications.

To figure out whether a stent or surgery is best for your situation, discuss these options with your oncologist (cancer doctor) and surgeon. He or she can look at all of the details of your particular situation to help you make the best choice. You can figure out what will give you the best chance of a successful outcome, and the least chance of dealing with further complications.

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