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EMLA Reduces Acute and Chronic Pain After Breast Surgery for Cancer
  1. Argyro Fassoulaki, M.D., Ph.D, D.E.A.A.,
  2. Constantine Sarantopoulos, M.D., Ph.D., D.E.A.A.,
  3. Aikaterini Melemeni, M.D. and
  4. Quinn Hogan, M.D.
  1. From the Department of Anesthesiology, St Savas Hospital (A.F., A.M.), Athens, Greece; and the Department of Anesthesiology, Medical College of Wisconsin (C.S., Q.H.), Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
  1. Reprint requests: Constantine Sarantopoulos, M.D., Ph.D., D.E.A.A., Medical College of Wisconsin, Anesthesia Research, MEB, Room M4280, 8701 Watertown Plank Rd, Milwaukee, WI 53226-0509. E-mail: csar{at}


Background and Objectives A significant percentage of women undergoing breast surgery for cancer may develop neuropathic pain in the chest, and/or ipsilateral axilla and/or upper medial arm, with impairment in performing daily occupational activities. We designed this study to determine if the perioperative application of EMLA (eutectic mixture of local anesthetics; AstraZeneca) cream in the breast and axilla area reduces analgesic requirements, as well as the acute and chronic pain after breast surgery.

Methods Forty-six female patients scheduled for breast surgery received randomly 5 g of EMLA or placebo on the sternal area 5 minutes before surgery, and 15 g on the supraclavicular area and axilla at the end of the operation. Treatment with EMLA cream (20 g) or placebo was also applied daily on the 4 days after surgery. In the postanesthesia care unit (PACU), 3, 6, 9, and 24 hours after surgery, and on the second to sixth day postoperatively, pain was assessed by visual analogue scale (VAS) at rest and after movement, and postoperative analgesic requirements were recorded. Three months later, patients were asked if they had pain in the chest wall, axilla and/or medial upper arm, decreased sensation, if they required analgesics at home, and for the intensity of pain.

Results Acute pain at rest and with movement did not differ between the EMLA and control groups, and the analgesics consumed during the first 24 hours were the same for the EMLA and control groups. However, time to the first analgesia requirement was longer (P = .04), and codeine and paracetamol consumption during the second to fifth days was less (P = .001, and P = .004, respectively) in the EMLA versus the control group. Three months postoperatively, pain in the chest wall, axilla, and the total incidence and the intensity of chronic pain were significantly less in the EMLA versus the control group (P = .004, P = .025, P = .002 and P = .003, respectively). The use of analgesics at home and abnormal sensations did not differ between the 2 groups.

Conclusions The application of EMLA to patients undergoing breast surgery for cancer reduced the postoperative analgesic requirements and the incidence and intensity of chronic pain.

  • Pain
  • acute
  • chronic. Surgery
  • Breast
  • cancer. Local anesthetics
  • EMLA

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