Respiratory Depression: A Case Study of a Postoperative Patient With Cancer

Bilja Sajith, MSN, FNP


Respiratory depression is a complication that often follows cancer-related surgery and can result in life-threatening consequences. Oncology nurses caring for postoperative patients must monitor for respiratory complications and implement measures to prevent respiratory depression. A review of postoperative respiratory depression risk factors, clinical findings, and monitoring will be presented in this article using a case study.

At a Glance

  • A significant percentage of patients undergoing general surgeries have obstructive sleep apnea, but most members of this population remain undiagnosed at the time of surgery. 
  • Atelectasis, which involves failure of the lungs to expand or collapse, may be caused by general anesthesia, which creates a pulmonary shunt. 
  • Nurses often do not recognize changes in respiratory rates and are falsely reassured by saturation levels measured by pulse oximetry, which tends to be the method least sensitive to detecting hypoventilation. 
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