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Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL): Surgery 

With chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), surgery is sometimes used to remove a swollen spleen. This procedure is called a splenectomy.

What is the spleen?

The spleen is an organ near the stomach. It’s part of the system that makes white blood cells and destroys old red blood cells. It also helps to prevent infections by filtering bacteria in the blood. 

When splenectomy is done for CLL

A splenectomy does not cure CLL. But it may help improve blood counts and relieve pressure and discomfort from an enlarged spleen. Your doctor may advise that you have a splenectomy to treat CLL if you have one or both of these problems:

  • Your spleen is so swollen that it's pushing on other organs, such as your stomach. Other treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy, are often used first to try to shrink the spleen.

  • Your spleen is removing too many red blood cells and platelets from your blood. It's your spleen's job to remove worn-out blood cells, but leukemia can make your spleen overactive. A splenectomy can help raise your red blood cell and platelet counts.

Vaccines before your surgery

You may need some vaccines before surgery. This is because your risk for certain infections will increase after your spleen is removed.

What to expect for your surgery

A surgeon does a splenectomy in a hospital. Before your surgery, your doctor will make sure that you have no infections and that you have had vaccines as needed. You will check into the hospital the day before or early on the day of your surgery. You'll meet with your surgeon and an anesthesiologist, the doctor who will handle your anesthesia.

The surgery will take from 90 minutes to 3 hours. It depends on the way the surgery is done. The surgery is done by making 1 large cut (incision) or several smaller incisions in your abdomen. The main artery going to your spleen is tied off. The spleen is removed. Your incision is then closed with stitches.

You will likely stay in the hospital for less than a week after your surgery.

Preventing infections after a splenectomy

After the surgery, you'll need to be careful to avoid infection. You’ll need to be careful about infections for the rest of your life. That's because your spleen is an organ that helps protect you against some types of infection. Your doctor will likely advise that you get vaccines to help prevent certain bacterial infections. He or she will give you more information.

Online Medical Reviewer: Alteri, Rick, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Cunningham, Louise, RN
Date Last Reviewed: 10/1/2015
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