PROSPECT guideline for oncological breast surgery: a systematic review and procedure-specific postoperative pain management recommendations

Anaesthesia. 2020 May;75(5):664-673. doi: 10.1111/anae.14964. Epub 2020 Jan 26.


Analgesic protocols used to treat pain after breast surgery vary significantly. The aim of this systematic review was to evaluate the available literature on this topic and develop recommendations for optimal pain management after oncological breast surgery. A systematic review using preferred reporting items for systematic reviews and meta-analysis guidance with procedure-specific postoperative pain management (PROSPECT) methodology was undertaken. Randomised controlled trials assessing postoperative pain using analgesic, anaesthetic or surgical interventions were identified. Seven hundred and forty-nine studies were found, of which 53 randomised controlled trials and nine meta-analyses met the inclusion criteria and were included in this review. Quantitative analysis suggests that dexamethasone and gabapentin reduced postoperative pain. The use of paravertebral blocks also reduced postoperative pain scores, analgesia consumption and the incidence of postoperative nausea and vomiting. Intra-operative opioid requirements were documented to be lower when a pectoral nerves block was performed, which also reduced postoperative pain scores and opioid consumption. We recommend basic analgesics (i.e. paracetamol and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) administered pre-operatively or intra-operatively and continued postoperatively. In addition, pre-operative gabapentin and dexamethasone are also recommended. In major breast surgery, a regional anaesthetic technique such as paravertebral block or pectoral nerves block and/or local anaesthetic wound infiltration may be considered for additional pain relief. Paravertebral block may be continued postoperatively using catheter techniques. Opioids should be reserved as rescue analgesics in the postoperative period. Research is needed to evaluate the role of novel regional analgesic techniques such as erector spinae plane or retrolaminar plane blocks combined with basic analgesics in an enhanced recovery setting.

Keywords: analgesia; breast surgery; evidence-based medicine; pain; systematic review.

Publication types

  • Practice Guideline
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms* / surgery
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Pain Management* / methods
  • Pain Management* / standards
  • Pain Measurement
  • Pain, Postoperative* / drug therapy
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Surgical Procedures, Operative* / methods