Skip to main content

ACS & ASCO are Stronger Together: Cancer.Net content is now available on



Surgery for Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL)

Surgery has a very limited role in treating chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Because CLL cells tend to spread widely throughout the bone marrow and to many organs, surgery can't cure this type of cancer. Surgery is rarely needed even to diagnose CLL, which can often be done with blood tests. But there are some situations where surgery might be done.

Surgery to help diagnose chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)

Sometimes minor surgery is needed to remove a lymph node (biopsy) or a tumor somewhere else in the body to help diagnose or stage CLL. To learn more, see Tests for Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL).


In some people with CLL, the spleen might become enlarged. This is known as splenomegaly. One of the spleen's normal functions is to remove worn-out blood cells from the bloodstream. If the spleen gets too large, it can become too active and remove too many blood cells, leading to low levels of red blood cells and platelets. The spleen might also grow so large that it presses on nearby organs and causes problems.

An enlarged spleen can often be treated with medicines (such as corticosteroids) or with radiation. But in some people, the spleen may need to be removed in an operation called a splenectomy. This isn't expected to cure the CLL, but it can help improve some of the symptoms and improve blood cell counts, which can lower the need for blood product transfusions.

Most people have no problem living without a spleen, but they're at higher risk for certain bacterial infections. Doctors recommend that people get certain vaccines before their spleen is removed. If your spleen has been removed, be sure to report any signs of infection to your health care team right away.

More information about Surgery

For more general information about  surgery as a treatment for cancer, see Cancer Surgery.

To learn about some of the side effects listed here and how to manage them, see Managing Cancer-related Side Effects.

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 editors and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.


National Cancer Institute. Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia Treatment (PDQ®)–Health Professional Version. 2024. Accessed at on June 10, 2024.

National Comprehensive Cancer Network, Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines®): Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia/Small Lymphocytic Lymphoma, Version 3.2024. Accessed at on June 10, 2024.

Rai KR, Stilgenbauer S. Treatment of relapsed or refractory chronic lymphocytic leukemia. UpToDate. 2024. Accessed at on June 10, 2024.


Last Revised: July 1, 2024

American Cancer Society Emails

Sign up to stay up-to-date with news, valuable information, and ways to get involved with the American Cancer Society.