Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing • Volume 15, Number 2 • Preventing Postoperative Complications in Ovarian Cancer 195
Margaret Kendrick, MSN, RN, Elizabeth Ercolano, DNSc, RN, AOCNS®, and Ruth McCorkle, PhD, FAAN
Women with ovarian cancer often undergo multimodal treatment, which may cause physical complications and decrease quality
of life. As a result, this article describes postoperative complications in women with suspected primary ovarian cancer, explains
factors related to developing postoperative complications, and discusses the clinical implications of postoperative complica-
tion management. The researchers used self-report questionnaires completed by women who were within one month after
surgery for suspected ovarian cancer (N = 142) to identify postoperative complications. Demographic characteristics also were
examined to determine factors that may predict postoperative complications. The most common complications reported were
wound infection, fever, and sepsis, followed by ileus, nausea, and vomiting. Women diagnosed with new or late-stage cancer
were equally likely to develop a postoperative complication. Healthcare providers should carefully assess women diagnosed
with ovarian cancer before surgery to determine their individual risk of developing postoperative complications. All women
should be monitored for complications; however, women who are at higher risk because of multiple modalities, late-stage
cancer, or the presence of comorbidities warrant particular attention after surgery and discharge.
patient’s presentation. Resection of the primary cancer focuses
on the removal of the tumor and sufficient surrounding normal
tissue (Rosenburg, 2008). If the patient is not cured with resec-
tion, adjuvant chemotherapy may be needed to prevent or delay
recurrence. Cytoreductive surgery is performed when the tumor
cannot be completely resected because of extensive local spread
(Rosenburg, 2008). This surgery debulks the cancer before the
use of chemotherapy or radiation to manage residual disease.
Palliative surgery may relieve pain or restore function but is
not curative (Rosenburg, 2008). Finally, reconstruction is used
after definitive surgery to provide better function and cosmetic
improvement postoperatively (Rosenburg, 2008).
Interventions to Prevent
in Women With Ovarian Cancer
At a Glance
F Ovarian cancer treatment involves combinations of modalities,
including surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.
F Women with primary ovarian cancer are more likely to have
longer hospital stays because chemotherapy often is initi-
ated while they are still inpatients; therefore, more aggres-
sive infection prevention is warranted.
F Discharge instructions and follow-up should be provided to
patients as well as their caregivers.
Margaret Kendrick, MSN, RN, is a nurse practitioner at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance in Washington; and Elizabeth Ercolano, DNSc, RN,
AOCNS®, is an associate research scientist and Ruth McCorkle, PhD, FAAN, is the Florence Wald Professor of Nursing, both in the School
of Nursing at Yale University in New Haven, CT. This work was partially funded by the National Institutes of Health, National Institute for
Nursing Research (1RO1 NR07778), and Trustees of the Swebelius Fund for Pilot Studies (R. McCorkle, principal investigator). The content
of this article has been reviewed by independent peer reviewers to ensure that it is balanced, objective, and free from commercial bias.
No financial relationships relevant to the content of this article have been disclosed by the independent peer reviewers or editorial staff.
(Submitted July 2010. Revision submitted September 2010. Accepted for publication September 4, 2010.)
Digital Object Identifier: 10.1188/11.CJON.195-202
urgery is a mainstay of modern cancer treatment and
has value in the diagnosis and treatment of most can-
cers. Surgical interventions for cancer treatment may
be used for tumor resection, cytoreductive surgery,
palliation of symptoms, and reconstruction. The goals
of surgery differ depending on the type of cancer as well as the
As with all treatments, the benefits of surgery must outweigh
the risks. The complications of surgery vary based on the ana-
tomic location of the tumor. Abdominal surgeries are associated
with high rates of complications because of the anatomic struc-
tures located within the abdominal cavity. The most common
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