Splenectomy

Splenectomy is a surgical procedure that removes the spleen. It is an organ that is part of the lymphatic system. The spleen located on the left side of the body just under the ribcage. The spleen works to filter the blood and help fight germs and infections. As a filter, the spleen can remove damaged blood cells from the blood.1-3

In several kinds of blood cancer, the spleen can become enlarged. Because of its location right next to the stomach, an enlarged spleen can press on the stomach. This can make someone feel not hungry, or they may get full after just a small amount of food. This can lead to weight loss. An enlarged spleen may also be painful.2,4

Why is a splenectomy is performed?

The most common reason people have a splenectomy is to remove a ruptured spleen after an injury to the abdomen.

In someone with blood cancer, including leukemia and lymphoma, the spleen may be removed to relieve symptoms. This includes things like pain and changes in appetite. Removing the spleen may also improve blood cell counts and reduce the need for blood transfusions.2,4,5

Because the spleen filters out damaged blood cells, an enlarged spleen can become overactive in its filtering. This can cause lowered red blood cells or platelets. A splenectomy can help improve blood counts in these people.2,4,5

How is a splenectomy is performed?

A splenectomy may be performed as an open procedure or as a laparoscopic procedure. For either procedure, the person is given general anesthesia and pain medicine.1,3

In an open splenectomy, the surgeon makes an incision in the belly, removes the spleen, and closes the incision with stitches or staples.1

In a laparoscopic splenectomy, 3 or 4 small cuts are made in the belly, and instruments are inserted into these cuts. One of the instruments is a laparoscope, which allows the surgeon to view the internal structures. The surgeon inflates the abdomen with a harmless gas to allow room to view the structures and move the instruments. The spleen is removed using the instruments, and the incisions are closed using stitches or staples.1

A laparoscopic procedure may give the person faster and less painful recovery. In some cases where the spleen is very large, an open procedure may be used. People should talk to their surgeons about which procedure is best for them and why.1,2

After open surgery, the person remains in the hospital for a few days. With a laparoscopic procedure, the person may go home the same day or the day after surgery. With either procedure, normal activities can usually be resumed after 6 weeks. However, each person should talk to their doctor about their recovery expectations.2

What are the possible risks of a splenectomy?

A splenectomy is usually a safe procedure. But as with any surgery, there are potential risks, including:2

  • Bleeding
  • Blood clots
  • Infection
  • Injury to nearby organs

A splenectomy also increases the long-term risk of infections, including serious infections. People who have a splenectomy may be given preventive antibiotics and/or vaccines to prevent pneumonia, influenza, and meningococcal infections.2

These are not all the possible side effects of a splenectomy. Talk to your doctor about what to expect or if you experience any changes that concern you during treatment with splenectomy.

Things to know about splenectomy

After surgery, other organs in the body take over most of the tasks that were handled by the spleen. People who have had a splenectomy are at an increased risk of infection, and they may experience a harder or longer time recovering from infections or injuries. Tell your doctor if you have any signs of an infection, including:2

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Redness or sore spots on the body
  • Sore throat
  • A cold that lasts longer than usual

Talk to your doctor if you have any questions about your splenectomy procedure. Before having a splenectomy, tell your doctor about all your health conditions and any other drugs, vitamins, or supplements you are taking. This includes over-the-counter drugs.

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Written by: Emily Downward | Last reviewed: April 2021