Leukemia cells spread widely throughout the bone marrow and other organs, so surgery cannot be used to cure this type of cancer. Surgery rarely has any role even in diagnosing chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), since a blood test or bone marrow aspirate and biopsy are usually all that's needed.
If leukemia spreads to the spleen, it can become large enough to compress nearby organs and cause symptoms. If chemotherapy or radiation doesn't help shrink the spleen, it may be removed with surgery. This operation, called a splenectomy, is meant to improve the symptoms of an enlarged spleen — it has no role in curing CML.
Splenectomy may also improve blood cell counts and lower the need for blood product transfusions. One of the spleen's normal functions is to remove worn-out blood cells from the bloodstream. If leukemia or other diseases cause the spleen to become too large, it may become too active in removing blood cells, leading to a shortage of red blood cells or platelets. Taking out the spleen may improve red blood cell and platelet counts in some patients.
Most people have no problem living without a spleen, but the risk for certain bacterial infections is increased. This is why doctors often recommend certain vaccines be given before the spleen is removed.
The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.
Last Revised: June 19, 2018
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