A Prospective Study of Nausea and Vomiting After Breast Cancer Surgery

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Postoperative nausea and vomiting (PONV) and post-discharge nausea and vomiting (PDNV) continue to be common and disturbing complications experienced after surgery, particularly in women and especially in women undergoing breast cancer surgery. The purpose of this study was to assess the incidence and risk factors associated with PONV and PDNV from preoperative to 48 hours postoperatively in 97 women scheduled for breast cancer surgery.


Prospective, comparative design.


After informed consent was obtained, women scheduled for breast cancer surgery were evaluated for incidence of vomiting, as well as the presence and severity of nausea from the preoperative holding area for 48 hours following surgery. Vomiting was assessed as both a nominally scaled, binary variable (Yes/No) and as a continuous variable to measure separate emetic events. Nausea was measured on an 11point verbal numeric scale with 0 being the absence of nausea and 10 representing the highest level of nausea ever experienced.


Twenty-nine (29.8%) women experienced nausea, and nine (9%) women experienced nausea and vomiting while in the post-anesthesia care unit despite close attention to the need for prophylactic antiemetic medications. Women who experienced PONV had higher levels of pain and received more opioids than those women who did not experience PONV. Women who received intravenous acetaminophen did not experience less PONV in this study. PDNV occurred more frequently than PONV, with 34 women (35%) reporting occurrence after discharge. About 13 women who did not experience PONV while in the PACU subsequently experienced PDNV after leaving the hospital, evidence for the importance of patient discharge teaching regarding these symptoms. Although clinical guidelines are necessary, our observation is that nurses in the PACU setting continuously challenge themselves to individualize the combination of medications and activities for each patient to reduce PONV after surgery.

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